The other side, not my side – Monday, 4th Week in ordinary time – Mark 5:1-20
At quite an unearthly hour, Jesus decided to take a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee (4:35). He simply told his disciples that he needed them all to “go to the other side.” (Mark 4:35) That evening’s boat ride, as we know, ended up in a nightmare for the disciples and ironically it was the Lord who was sleeping while they were experiencing the most terrifying ordeal that the Sea of Galilee threw up.
A lesson in faith and fear now taught, the disciples and Jesus arrive on the “other side” (Mark 5:1). It seemed that this was to be a roller coaster of horrifying experience for waiting on the “other side” was a man with an unclean spirit who had made the tombs his residence. St Mark noted every detail of the storm-tossed trip and now gives us every detail of this horrifying encounter. We are told that this man could not be restrained anymore even with a chain. He had been tied up with a chain but it proved to be useless as he had wrenched apart the chain and broken the shackles into pieces. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains, he howled, bruising himself with stones.
Like the disciples we too wonder why the Lord exposes us to a series of terrifying ordeals and that too in quick succession. While our frustration is quite understandable the Lord has his reasons. Yes, he did get into a boat and the disciples had to experience a hellish ride before encountering hell itself with this man possessed with a legion of demons but while we moan at our challenges the Lord hears the cries of a man who has suffered so much for so long. The Lord heard his cries across the sea of Galilee on the “other side.”
While we moan and complain of a near titanic experience for a night and then have to deal with a terrifying encounter, here was a man who lived this experience for not just a night but for “nights and days” (5:5). Whose cry should the Lord hear? Our momentary pains and discomforts or an obscure soul in the mountains whose life has been taken over by a legion of devils.
While the narrative takes its course and the mercy of God works a miracle for this man, we are told that the man on being released from these demons, “begs Jesus that he might be with Him” (5:18). The man’s fear is understandable. It took the Messiah, the Son of God, to free him from the bondage of satan. How blessed we are that we have a saviour who offers this freedom from sin through the sacrament of reconciliation and at the confessional there is no fear, just love.
Any public relations team would have seized the opportunity which now presented itself. The man who was delivered desired to be by Jesus. This would be an ideal situation for a PR firm, to turn this man into a poster boy for the healing ministry of Jesus. Our Lord thinks otherwise. Having set the man free of satan he sets him free to go back to his friends (5:19) with a specific mandate. Jesus tells him to proclaim to his friends what ‘the Lord has done for him and the mercy he has shown him.’ (5:19). In chapter 1:45 a leper who was healed was told not to say anything to anyone. Now Jesus asks this man to explicitly go out and talk about this exorcism. Why we wonder?
Several explanations could be offered but I would like to suggest this. If you recall, Mark’s Gospel clearly has Jesus battling with Satan. The first miracle in chapter one was the exorcism of a man in the synagogue and from then on St Mark makes it a point to repeatedly tell us of his battle with satan; “he did not permit them to speak” and “he cast them out.” While Jesus did not permit the leper to speak of a “healing” he encourages this man to speak of his “exorcism.” Too many of us would like a healer to take away a cancer, too few want a priest to forgive us our sins. The healing of our lives that has been taken over by satan is far greater need than a healing of a diseased body. The body will die one day, the soul will live forever. IF we should talk about anything it is not the wonder of miracle but the Lord of wonders who takes away our sins.
This was a grateful man for we are told that he proclaimed of the Lord’s doing in the Decapolis; that Greek for ten cities. He went to ten cities to tell them, “How much Jesus had done for him” (5:20) “leaving every amazed.” How many people have I spoken to about what Jesus has done for me? Let’s hope we can count ten people!