Echoes of Exodus in the Land of the Gerasenes

Mark 5:1-17

In the story of the Gerasene demoniac, Jesus invades enemy territory and defeats a powerful army to deliver people from bondage.

Jesus enters enemy territory in two ways. The land of the Gerasenes was on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was part of the Greco-Roman region known as the Decapolis, or “ten towns.” It was Gentile territory, the land of foreign gods, a place of idolatry. Additionally, the encounter takes place among the tombs, an earthly realm of the dead, so to speak. Here, then, Jesus faced two of God’s enemies: hostile spiritual powers and death itself.

Unsurprisingly in such a place, Jesus finds a man possessed by unclean spirits. The man howled day and night and cut himself with stones. His fellow citizens tried to restrain him in chains – a horrible way to treat mental illness, by the way – but he always broke free. In Mark’s thinking, the man’s extraordinary strength is evidence of supernatural bondage. The man could break his earthly chains; he could not break his spiritual ones.

When Jesus asked the man’s name – always a good way to start a conversation – the demons replied, “We are ‘Legion’, for we are many.” A legion is a Roman military unit consisting of four to six thousand soldiers. Some of my Christian brothers and sisters see this as coded language referring to a confrontation with the political and military power of Rome. I don’t see anything of that sort in the story.  I’ll take Mark at his word; he’s thinking of an army of demons, not an army of human soldiers.

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Calming the Storm, Sign or Metaphor?

A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:37-41)

Ah, yes, Jesus calms the storms of life. The story is a metaphor – an illustration – of what Jesus does in our lives. For the most part, that’s how the gospel will be preached today. And indeed Jesus does calm the storms of my life.

Or maybe the storms of life continue, but we need to trust Jesus anyway. Maybe that’s the point of Jesus’ rebuke, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Again, though, the storm is a metaphor for some existential struggle or internal disquiet that I face.

What if, however, Mark didn’t primarily intend for us to see the storm as a metaphor for our personal struggles? What if he meant us to see the storm as an actual storm, with gale-force winds and 20-foot waves and torrential rain and blinding flashes of lightning? What if he meant us to see it as a big, wet, life-threatening punch in the face from mother nature?

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Jesus and the Promise of Home

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. John 15:9-12

The Comforts of Home

Every afternoon, when I am worn out by the day, I look forward to the moment when I can walk out to my car and silently comfort myself with the thought, “Let’s go home.” And in my life, home has been a moving target.

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The Gospel that Includes the Baptism that Includes

Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” Acts 8:35-36

Acts 8 tells the story of an Ethiopian, an official in the court of the queen, who was returning home following a trip to Jerusalem. On his trip, the official encountered Philip, on of the seven Christians chosen in Acts 6 for oversight of the Greek-speaking church.

What first caught my attention was this: Philip proclaimed the good news about Jesus to someone who knew nothing about it. The Ethiopian then immediately asked to be baptized.  It seems to imply that that Christian baptism was part of Philip’s story of good news.

Well, yes, but as I dug into the text I found that there is even more to the story.

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Did the Men Cook?

Image result for upper room nashville

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.” “Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked. He replied, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished. Make preparations there.” They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover. Luke 22:7-13

Sometime back I was sitting in the Upper Room Chapel in Nashville when my mind wandered off the chapel activities to the carving behind the altar. It is a representation of Jesus’ last supper before his crucifixion, a copy of Leonardo DaVinci’s famous painting.

Luke says that the “apostles” – the sent ones – reclined at the table with Jesus, a group Luke identifies with the twelve. In renaissance style, DaVinci’s apostles sit with Jesus; they don’t recline. Still, it’s just the twelve and Jesus – all men. And the question came to my mind, “Who cooked the dinner?”

Did Luke intend to say that Peter and John cooked the meal when he said, “they prepared the Passover?” Were there others, perhaps some women included, behind the scenes who prepared the actual meal?

It’s amusing to think of the great apostles of the church standing beside the oven baking bread, washing vegetables and roasting lamb. Maybe Peter washed the dishes and John set the table. We should not think it beneath the dignity of the princes of the church to do the work of  servants. Even an apostle can put on an apron and get to work. The disciples may not wash feet in the synoptic gospels as they do in the Gospel of John, but Jesus still calls them to the ordinary task of setting the table.

Whoever performed these mundane functions, the supper had to be prepared before the table could be shared.

Does not the apostolic church still set the table for Jesus, so that he can offer himself anew to every new generation of believers?