By Michael Smith
A Reading from the Gospel of Mark 5:1-20
1 They came to the other side of the lake, to the country of the Gerasenes. 2And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. 3He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; 4for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. 5Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. 6When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; 7and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” 8For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; 12and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” 13So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the lake, and were drowned in the lake.
14 The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. 15They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. 16Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. 17Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighbourhood. 18As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. 19But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” 20And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.
Many have observed that we now live in a post-Christendom culture. As a result, the Catechumenate is being restored in many parts of the Christian world. Dating back to the third century, before Christianity became the official religion of the state, the Catechumenate was a process to prepare adults for baptism at the Great Vigil of Easter. On this Third Sunday in Lent, it was customary for the congregation to offer special prayers for the candidates for baptism. These “scrutinies” asked God for deliverance from the powers of darkness and for illumination by the light of Christ’s presence. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus contends with the powers of darkness manifested in the oppression of demons.
The story tells of Jesus’ encounter with a woeful creature, a man tormented by unclean spirits who lived among the tombs and “was always howling and bruising himself with stones.” His neighbors tried to protect him from his self-destructive behavior, but even the chains and shackles used to restrain him eventually proved futile as the power of evil increased. The demoniac was unable to help himself, nor did his community possess the resources to protect him. What was needed was divine intervention. “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” Jesus commanded, and the oppressed man was set free.
Today, recalling that in baptism we once renounced “Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God” (BCP p. 302), we seek God’s continued deliverance from the powers of darkness and for the persistent brilliance of Christ’s presence. We scrutinize or examine the ways we are disobedient “by what we have done, and by what we have left undone” (BCP p. 360), confident of the Holy One’s forgiveness, illumination, and protection from evil.
Michael G. Smith served as bishop of North Dakota for fifteen years and is currently the Assistant Bishop of Dallas. He works with the Navajoland Iona Collaborative and is a Benedictine Oblate and an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.
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