Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the lake, and were drowned in the lake. The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood.
This is a peculiar story, no doubt about it. It is hard for us to catch some of the narrative nuances that would have helped ancient hearers first make sense of it. For instance, in some ways this is portrayed as a contest of power – Jesus has the ability not only to command a single unclean spirit but even a legion and, moreover, to send them wherever he wants. But this raises an interesting question: for while the demons recognize his power – hence they address him as Son of the Most High God and beg for a measure of mercy – will others?
Apparently not, or at least not in the fashion one would hope. For the people who come out see that something has happened alright, but all they can do is tremble with fear. One might have expected that, as in previous situations where Jesus exercised power for health and healing, they would have begged him to stay, to heal and restore others. But they are afraid and beg him to leave.
Because sometimes the status quo – even when it’s awful – is preferable because as bad as it may be, at least we’re used to it. The people might have been felt bad for, or even been afraid of, the possessed man, but at least they were used to him, used to the sets of relationships that governed their community. And now Jesus has gone and upset everything.
We’re used to the way in which disaster and setbacks alter and upset our lives. But health and healing are often equally challenging because they also upset the status quo. And that’s not something unique to Jesus’ day. Which leads me to wonder what are those things we most want – an improved relationship with a family member, a greater sense of purpose, a more fulfilled life – and what keeps us from reaching them? Sometimes it’s external conditions we have no control over, but sometimes it’s a fear of change, a fear of loss, which leads us to prefer a mediocre present over a possibly better but ultimately unknown future.
Prayer: Dear God, help us to trust in you and be open to the change you would create in our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.