JESUS AMONG THE GADARENES
- PART 2.


The demon-possessed man in the Gadarene region has terrified all who have come into contact with him and lives as a wretched but wild outcast on the hills alongside the Sea of Galilee. When Jesus enters the scene, however, it is the demons who are fearful as they recognise the divine authority of Jesus. Significantly they beg to be allowed to inhabit a nearby herd of pigs. Pigs were unclean animals according to Jewish kosher laws. In that sense they were natural hosts for unclean spirits. The Gadarenes, however, had no scruples with regard to pigs. The towns of the Decapolis were prosperous trade centres and, for them, the herd of pigs would simply have represented a valuable asset. So there is implicit in the pigs a significant difference of culture.

Jesus’ entry into their territory, then, has an immediate cultural and, for them more importantly, economic impact. He may bring remarkable healing and deliverance, but the Gadarenes also recognise that there is a cost involved in having him around. They are confronted with a decision. Whereas the Samaritans eagerly welcomed Jesus into their village and, presumably, also accepted the cost to their lifestyle of receiving and following him as Messiah, the Gadarenes ask him to leave their territory. Their culture and their economic preoccupations made the cost of welcoming him look too high.
In each of these two instances, Jesus’ arrival quickly becomes a highly visible public event, with all the townsfolk coming out to see what has happened. In each instance they are faced with irrefutable evidence of personal transformation in the life of someone well known to them. They are able to see the miraculous inbreaking of the Kingdom of God. The coming of the Kingdom always provokes the crisis of decision. The Samaritans rejoiced and wanted to hear more, the Gadarenes were afraid and moved to create a protective distance between them and Jesus.

This shows me that resistance to the gospel of Jesus is often occasioned by fear. Unless we recognise that often lies behind people’s refusal of the offer of grace, we won’t properly grasp the dynamics that are at work in the context. Strikingly, the opposite of fear is at work in the man who is delivered of the legion of demons. This once tortured soul emerges “clothed and in his right mind”. He has been powerfully impacted by grace and knows himself to be delivered, healed and transformed.

In this context, the man’s racial and cultural constraints become irrelevant to him. Of all those in the Gerasene territory it is he who sees most clearly and, as such, he begs to go with Jesus. The grace of the gospel of the Kingdom has formed a deep bond; so deep that he is willing to leave his people and his cultural and step into the alien world of Jewish society, such is his desire to be with Jesus!

Is this not what has often happened in missionary contexts? The liberating grace of the gospel is so powerful that people are willing, for the sake of Christ, to identify with and espouse the culture of those who have brought the message of Christian salvation. It is telling, therefore, that Jesus refuses the man’s request. Jesus knows that what is needed is for him to re-enter his own cultural group as an authentic evangelist. Jesus instructs him, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”
So, this once uncontrollable, demon-possessed man becomes a very effective evangelist whose words, backed by the visible evidence of his life, caused amazement among the people of his community. There is historical evidence for the early establishment of Christian churches in the Gadarene region, and there is every likelihood that it all grew from the founding evangelistic ministry of this man.

The Gadarene community, which was resistant to Jesus and his Jewish companions, was more open to hearing the gospel coming to them through one of their own, and in terms that they are able to understand. Mission in many, many contexts down the ages would have been freed from unhelpful enculturation if heralding the gospel of the Kingdom had been more completely entrusted to those who were first impacted by it and who were able to share it in a shape that would be more understandable to their own people.

In our South African context, centuries after the coming of the first missionaries, there is still, often legitimate, resentment about the way the gospel came wrapped in British culture, and with acceptance of the saving message of Jesus carrying with it the requirement that people cut themselves off from their culture and adopt Western practices. Western culture was identified with “Christendom” and commended, while African culture was denigrated. This is a violation of the way of Jesus and has not borne the good fruit that could have resulted had the gospel been free to find its place in African culture.
 
 
 


Rob Taylor, 07/09/2020

 

Christ Church Kenilworth  |  Cnr Summerley & Richmond Road  |  Tel: +27 (021) 797 6332  | E-mail: reception@cck.org.za
Service Times: Sunday Worship  8.00am, 10.00am & 6.30pm  |  Wednesday Service: 10am   | Tuesday Quiet Service: 6.30pm (fortnightly)

Taryn Galloway, 06/05/2015