Monday of Week 4 of Ordinary Time – Gospel

Commentary on Mark 5:1-20

Today we see Mark at his best…a story full of drama and excitement. Compare this to a much more bland version of the story in Matthew where, for some reason, there are two men. It takes place in the “region of the Gerasenes” which was Gentile territory.

There was a man who was possessed by several “unclean spirits”, i.e. demons (“My name is Legion, for we are many.”). He was absolutely uncontrollable, could smash through chains and lived in isolated places, an outcast and a source of fear to people everywhere.

But when Jesus appears, it is the demons’ turn to fear. They begged not to be sent out of that district (as Gentile territory was it fertile ground for their activities – perhaps even a demon’s paradise). They offer a deal. They ask to be allowed to enter a herd of pigs. Clearly, the presence of pigs indicates this was Gentile territory. Jesus grants their request, and once possessed:

…the herd, numbering about two thousand, stampeded down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea.

To the thinking of many today, this seems like a terrible waste of good pigs! How could Jesus do such a thing? But we need to remember that this was written in a Jewish context where pigs were regarded as unclean and to be avoided at all costs. We remember how the Prodigal Son was condemned in his hunger to get a job tending pigs and even to eating their food. For a Jew, this was the very lowest any human could go in terms of humiliation and degradation. So getting rid of these pigs was a case of good riddance. A better place to put evil spirits could not be imagined!

On the other hand, the swineherds were naturally upset at losing their means of livelihood and went back to the towns to announce what had happened. Subsequently, the people from those towns came out to see this extraordinary happening. They found Jesus and the man, perfectly composed and fully dressed – and they were afraid. Naturally, they realised that, in Jesus, they were in the presence of someone very special who had such powers. They were also very upset that their herds of pigs had been destroyed and, not surprisingly, they begged Jesus to go elsewhere.

The man, however, asked to follow Jesus. Jesus’ response is interesting:

Jesus refused and said to him, “Go home to your own people, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and what mercy he has shown you.”

This was, in fact, another kind of following and is a message each of us can hear.

Some of us think that following Jesus means spending a lot of time ‘with Jesus’ in religious activities or joining the priesthood or religious life. For most of us, our calling and our following of Jesus takes place right where we are. It is there that we need to share with others our experience of knowing and being loved by Jesus.

Let us go home and tell others what Jesus means in our lives. And, like the people in this Gospel, they may be amazed.

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