May 27, 2005

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: First Gentile missionary

See Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-20,
Luke 8:26-39

Sometime we must wonder why Jesus did the things he did. Why, for example, did he and his Apostles travel across the Sea of Galilee to non-Jewish territory, where he met a man (Matthew’s Gospel says two men) possessed by demons? At first, it appears that his trip was a failure and served only to antagonize many people.

We’re not positive exactly where he went. Both Mark and Luke say that it was to the territory of the Gerasenes, but Matthew says it was the Gadarenes and some manuscripts say Gergesenes. Gerasa, Gadara and Gergesa were all located on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee at the beginning of what we know today as the Golan Heights. Wherever it was, we know that it was Gentile territory since the people there kept swine, something that Jews would not have done.

This is mountainous territory and the violent demoniac that Jesus met lived in the tombs made in caves. Therefore, he had contact with dead people, making Jesus ritually unclean for coming into contact with him. The demoniac is described as being supernaturally violent because of the demons who possessed him.

The man, though, prostrated himself before Jesus, indicating Jesus’ power over evil spirits. He called out, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” When Jesus asked his name, he replied, “Legion is my name.” Legion is not a name; it’s a number—there were 6,000 men in a Roman legion.

When Jesus ordered the demons out of the man, they implored him to allow them to enter a herd of swine. Apparently, that was preferable to their going back to hell. Jesus granted their request and the demons entered the pigs. But then the pigs all rushed down a steep hill into the sea and drowned, so the demons’ reprieve was short.

We can’t blame the swineherds for being indignant. The pigs, after all, were their livelihood. They ran into town and told the people what had happened and the people begged Jesus to leave; they couldn’t afford to have him there. So Jesus left.

The whole episode leaves us with many questions, but the main ones are: Why did Jesus allow the pigs to drown? Why did he perform a miracle if he knew that it would result in damage to people’s property? Why did he go there in the first place?

Perhaps the answer lies in what became of the former demoniac. He wanted to go with Jesus, but Jesus told him to stay there and report throughout the Decapolis what had happened to him. So this man became Jesus’ first Gentile convert as well as his first missionary to a Gentile country.

The man did his work well. When Jesus returned to the Decapolis later in the Gospels, crowds gathered to see and hear him. It was in this Gentile territory that he would perform his second miracle of multiplying loaves and fish. †


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