When the King Came: Stories from the Four Gospels - George Hodges

The Wild Man Of Gergesa

Now on the other side of the Lake of Galilee, where the boat landed after the stilling of the storm, the people were all heathen. They were Greeks, probably descendants from soldiers of Alexander, who had settled there after the wars were over. The great power of the world at that time, however, was not Greece but Rome; so there were Roman soldiers quartered in the Greek cities across the lake, who protected the people but oppressed them at the same time. The shore was in many places steep and rocky, with the valleys of rivers running back into the country; and on the shore, as Jesus and his disciples drew near in the boat, they saw a sight which they could not have seen anywhere on their own side of the lake: they saw a great herd of swine feeding. You know that the Jews never ate pork, nor do they eat it to this day. So they kept no pigs. But the Greeks kept pigs, and there they were feeding at the top of the cliffs.

Moreover, as the disciples looked, they saw something else which they disliked to see, and that was a graveyard. For the Jews were very particular as to what they touched. They had a great desire to be always pleasing to God, and they thought that there were some things in the world which God objected to, and that whoever even touched such things must wash himself, saying many prayers, and so make himself clean, before God would receive him again. Pigs were considered unclean, and pagan people were unclean, and whatever was dead was unclean, according to their rules. When our Lord put out his hand and touched the widow's son at Nain, many who stood by thought it very strange. They said nothing about it in the great joy of the moment, but they spoke of it afterwards and did not like it. So here were three unclean things at the same time: it was a pagan land, and pigs were feeding in it, beside a graveyard.

The truth is that our Lord paid no attention to these rules. One time he spoke very plainly and said that it is not that which enters a man's lips by which he is defiled, but that which comes out: that is, it does not matter so much what we eat as what we say. To speak an evil word is worse than to break all the rules about unclean things. And for this the people who were in authority hated him. They hated him because he disregarded their distinctions between the clean and the unclean, as they did because he cared so little for their rules about the sabbath.

But now, coming down from the rocks to the shore, was something worse than a pig or a pagan or a graveyard: down came a wild man.

The wild man had his dwelling among the tombs, living in the holes in the rocks in which lay the bones of the dead. At night, when it was dark and still, those who passed by could hear him crying and screaming in a dreadful voice. And in the daytime anybody who came near enough—though most people kept as far away as possible—could see him running about and wringing his hands, and cutting himself with sharp stones so that he was covered with blood. The man had a home and friends, and several times his friends had come and caught him, and tried to keep him from hurting himself any more. They had tied him up with ropes and even with chains; but every time he had broken loose, like Samson, and had got away. There he was, his hair blowing about his face, jumping up and down, waving his arms, crying out dreadful things, and making his way as fast as he could along the rocks to the place where our Lord's boat was coming in.

It seemed a bad place to land. No doubt, had the disciples been by themselves, they would have turned the boat away. Even as it was, they must have trembled, and they probably stood a little behind our Lord. But the wild man, when he came where they were, did not try to hurt them. He fell down on his knees on the wet sand at our Lord's feet, crying with a loud voice, "What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high?" For the wild man had an evil spirit. He was a crazy person. And our Lord, as the man came, commanded the evil spirit to come out of him. It was the man's other self, his evil self, who spoke. He cried, "Do not torment me." And Jesus said, "What is your name?" And the man said, "Legion." A legion was a great regiment of Roman soldiers, and men used the word when they meant a great number, and when they thought of power and cruelty. So the man said that his name was Legion, meaning that many evil spirits had their abode in him.

"Do not torment us," cried the spirits, "let us go into the swine." And suddenly, as he spoke, there was a great commotion among the swine. The crazy man rushed towards them, and the drove of pigs, grunting and scrambling, hurried away in a fierce panic, on and on towards the edge of the steep cliff, and over into the deep water. And the men who were in charge of them, who with all their sticks and cries had not been able to prevent their mad plunge into the sea, ran as fast as they could go into the near town, and there declared that a thousand devils had gone out of the crazy man into the herd of swine. So the owner came to see what had happened, and there were the pigs drowned in the sea, and the man sitting quiet and at peace at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And when the disciples told them what was done, they were both afraid and angry; for they were more concerned about their pigs than they were about the man. There was the poor man, their neighbor, delivered from his dreadful state; but their pigs were gone. And do you know what they did? They asked our Lord to go away. They told him that they did not want him in their country. The sun had set, and it was now growing dark; but the darkest place in that neighborhood was not in the midst of the thick trees, nor even in the caves of the graveyard where the man had lived among the dead; it was in the hearts of the owners of the swine.

People do not often keep droves of pigs, nowadays, in our part of the country, but they keep other things. They keep stores, and mills, and houses, and lands, and money. Whenever they think more about getting these things and keeping them than about the bodies and souls of their fellow-men, then they are like the people of Gergesa, who cared so much for their pigs that they sent our Lord away.

After that, the man who had been cured, asked Jesus that he might join the company of his disciples. But Jesus told him that the best thing that he could do was to go back to his own home, to his wife and children, and his neighbors, and tell them what great things God had done for him. So our Lord and the others got into the boat and rowed away over the dark lake, and the man went into the city and stopped all whom he met and told them of the power and love of Jesus.