I don’t think I’ve mentioned recently how awesome (pastor, teacher, author) John Ortberg is. Or that I got to hear him teach fairly often during my brief stint at Willow Creek Community Church outside of Chicago. He was my favorite and I learned so much from him. Unfortunately, I have since forgotten the joke he used to tell about Norwegian girls and chest hair. But it was really funny. If I ever meet him, I’ll ask about it so I can share it with you, k?
Anyhow, today’s exegesis is by John Ortbrg from his book Who Is This Man? It’s on Mark 5 where Jesus casts the legion of demons out of a wild man:
“One day Jesus drops a bomb. It’s early in his ministry, things are going well, and he has drawn a crowd so large that he must teach from a boat in a lake so all can hear. That evening he says to his disciples, “Let’s go over to the other side.”
That’s the bomb. The “other side” is something of a technical term. Jesus is not talking just about geography. The other side of the lake was the region of Decapolis, the “ten cities.” This was largely enemy territory. Its inhabitants were pagan people. . .
The Jews regarded the other side as the place where Satan lived. It was dark, evil, oppressive, and demonic. No one would go to the other side—especially no rabbi. . .
Decapolis was also a center of Roman power in Jesus’ time. It housed a legion of six thousand Roman soldiers. The symbol of a Roman legion was a boar’s head. Jesus casually suggested one day, “Let’s go over to the other side.”
What was he doing? Didn’t he know that the kingdom is for our side? It’s almost as if he didn’t know that this is the other side. It’s almost as if he thought it’s his side. It’s almost as if he thought every side belonged to him, or that he belonged to every side. It’s almost as if he thought that all the peoples of the earth were now going to be blessed through him —even the seven nations of Canaan.
“Let’s go over to the other side,” Jesus said. The disciples were not happy about this, but they went. When they landed, the large crowds the disciples had grown used to on their side were absent. Their reception committee was a single, deranged, tormented, tomb-dwelling, self-mutilating demoniac, so disruptive that he had been thrown out of his own community.
He fell on his knees before Jesus. “What do you want with me?… In God’s name don’t torture me.” Jesus asked the evil spirit, “What is your name?” And the response was, “Legion, for we are many.”
Legion is a loaded word in this story. There was a legion of foreign soldiers, and this was where they lived. That word is a reminder of enemies all around.
The spirits asked to be sent into pigs, which then rushed to their destruction. Any Israelite would think of the story recorded in 1 Maccabees, how Jewish patriots were forced by Rome to eat the flesh of pigs, and when they resisted, they were slaughtered. So the pig is also the symbol of Roman power of the legion. And the tormented man was delivered from the legion.
The people’s response was fascinating They begged him to go away. Why? Because he had power, but he wasn’t one of them. He was from the wrong side. And he might use his power to hurt them. Jesus agreed to go.
The man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus, who up to now had been telling everyone, “Follow me,” said no. He said, “Go tell your story.”. . .
Jesus returned to Decapolis a short time later. This time great crowds came to see him.
“They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went—into villages, towns or country side—they placed the sick… They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.” . . .
People were more receptive to Jesus here than any other place he had ever gone.
You have to go read the quote in its entirity. Ortberg’s done an amazing job pulling the story together and putting it in context. HT to Frederick Buechner for posting the quote this is taken from.