Jesus and the Demoniac Luke 8:27-37
Jesus is traveling across the countryside when he encounters a man who has been driven insane by demons. This man lives in the cemetery. He is naked and feeds like a wild animal. Everyone knows about him and everyone fears him.
As Jesus comes near the cemetery, this miserable human being cries out, “Jesus, Son of the most high God, what are you doing here? I’m begging you, please do not torment me!”
Do you find this plea a little strange? Why would this man be so afraid that Jesus was going to torture him? Of course, we know now that it was the demons that were afraid of torture. They saw Jesus for what he was – not simply a great teacher and prophet but the final judge of the universe. Jesus’ very presence filled them with fear.
Jesus did release this man from his oppressors. The demons fled to a herd of pigs and drove themselves over a cliff. The man became himself again, clothed, calm and civil. But the reaction of the people in that community is just as strange as the pleading of the demons. When the townspeople came out to the cemetery to see for themselves what had happened, they found the man sitting quietly with Jesus, talking and listening. Luke says, “and they became frightened”. Luke tells us that these people asked Jesus to leave their neighborhood because “they were gripped with fear”. The Greek words here are phoboi megaloi syneichonto. If you sound out these words, you will recognize two of them. “Phoboi” finds its way into English in phobia – fear of. “Megaloi” becomes the English “mega” meaning “great”. This was no ordinary twinge of fear. Not like being afraid of the dark until we turn on the light switch. This was petrifying, deep seated fear. The kind of fear that paralyzes. If someone has a real phobia, they simply cannot function when it confronts them.
But the really telling word here is the one that we are least familiar with. Syneichonto comes from the Greek word synecho. This Greek word is found only in Luke’s writing. It has several meanings such as “to hold prisoner”, “to surround” and “to oppress”. The general sense of the word is to be controlled by something. As a physician, Luke uses this word to describe the oppression of sickness – illness that takes hold of a man making him a prisoner of his body. It carries the sense of being completely governed by something.
In this case, the townspeople were under the complete control of their oppressing fear. Instead of welcoming Jesus, instead of celebrating this man’s recovery, they succumbed to a deep-seated panic about the spiritual world. They were terrorized by the change in the familiar. For years they had witnessed this man in the cemetery, a shadowy figure of themselves. Naked, afraid, nothing more than a frightened animal that could not be contained. They had grown accustomed to this man in their community. Yes, he was despicable. Yes, he was loathsome. But he was theirs. He belonged to them as he was, a reminder of their own inner torments. Now, suddenly, he no longer contained their darker side. He had been transformed into a simple man, sitting at the feet of his healer.
“Depart from us”, they cried. Leave us alone. We don’t want to face our fears. We don’t want to open up those terrible nightmares, those secret acts, those hidden thoughts. Let us keep our demons. They are comfortable.
Jesus came upon this man and released him from his oppression. The demons begged Jesus not to torture them. They cried, “Leave us alone”. Now the townspeople uttered the same cry. “Jesus, don’t come near us. Leave us alone. Don’t torture us by removing the evil within. Don’t make us face ourselves. We don’t want you to heal us. We are afraid to be without those secrets.”
There is a terrible panic when God begins to open our lives. Things we do not want to see, deeds we do not want to remember, all these and more God seeks to cast from us. Many of us are like the townspeople of Gerasenes. We are gripped with a petrifying fear of being made whole. We just don’t see how we can live if we can’t hold on to those past ways, even if they are demons in our souls.
Jesus did not press the issue with these people. He never does. He passed them by. But the man who was healed knew the truth – freedom costs – but it is worth the price.