The Naked Man – pt. 39

Gustave_Doré_-_Dante_Alighieri_-_Inferno_-_Plate_65_(Canto_XXXI_-_The_Titans)

If you’re new to this series, you can read the introduction here.

Mark continued the story. “Now, the herdsmen ran away and reported it in the city and out in the country. And the people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the ‘legion’; and they became frightened.”

Frightened?” said Rachel. “Why were they frightened?” Yiftach’s companion laughed. “You’ve obviously never seen the content of a Roman’s breakfast. Jesus just sent a year’s worth of breakfasts into the sea! I’m sure the herdmen were not looking forward to trying to explain that.”

“Perhaps,” said Mark. “No doubt they feared the kind of response their children came to experience last year – swift, brutal, and terrorizing.” He lifted his eyes to the south of the city, and the Romans’ encampment. “The same kind of retaliation many within these walls fear. But how many men like this are cared for in our villages?” Yiftach’s friend looked blankly at Mark. “How many of us have lived our whole lives anguished by the Roman occupation? And how many of us have had to repress that anguish, turning it inward, for fear of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and finding ourselves the object of such retaliation?”

“Not us!” exclaimed Yiftach’s friend triumphantly. He raised Yiftach’s arm. “We never shrank from our oppressors.” Yiftach pulled his arm away angrily. “You may recall life in the hills that way, but I do not. I remember nights when the smallest sound left me terrified that the Romans had found us.” He turned to Mark. “And yes, every village has such a man. Not just a madman. Not just someone who hurts himself. But someone who reminds us every day of what it feels like to be oppressed – and powerless. Someone who does not have to hide their anguish and hatred for fear of retaliation.” He turned to Rachel. “That’s why the villagers were frightened. Because the person who outwardly expressed their inner turmoil about their unbearable life was sitting before them clothed and in his right mind. What would they do with those feelings now?”

Mark nodded slowly. “Indeed. Those who had seen it described to them how it had happened to the demon-possessed man, and all about the swine. And they began to beg him to depart from their region.” Yiftach spoke softly. “I’m sure there are many widows in Gerasa who begged their husbands not to try to cast out the legion.” His voice tailed off as he said, “I’m sure there will be many in Jerusalem…”

“No there won’t!” said his friend angrily. “Jesus cast the legion out. And so will we.” A few heads nodded at this remark. “No,” said Mark, quietly. “You will not.” As the man began to respond, Mark held up his hand. “Oh, you may by some miracle defeat that legion out there. But another will take its place. And another. Because violence begets violence.” He turned to address the entire gathering. “Do not forget that Jesus – like this man – will end up naked, outside the city, bound to a Roman cross after his back was shredded by the lash at the Roman governor’s behest. But that is how the demons were ultimately dealt with. That is how healing and liberation finally came.”

“Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of darkness that lie behind every legion, every empire, every oppressor. Forget that, and we are doomed to continue the endless cycle of violence and counter-violence. Jesus took the very worst the empire has to offer, and in doing so, defeated the power of the empire. Those of us who claim to follow Jesus must carry that message to others, and embody that victory. Which means we may well suffer as Jesus did. We may well die.” Sudden tears appeared in Mark’s eyes as Peter’s face came to mind. “But G_d has defeated death, and the powers: our hope does not lie with insurrection, but with resurrection – G_d’s vindication of Jesus and the Way of the kingdom.”

He turned to Rachel. “But if that is the broad canvas on which our story is painted, do not miss the individual brushstrokes. Jesus met a man in great distress, and set him free. Wherever we encounter people in pain, we are to embody God’s healing and liberating power.” “What happened to the man?” asked Rachel. “As Jesus was getting into the boat,” said Mark, “the man who had been demon-possessed was begging him that he might accompany him. And Jesus said to him, ‘Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how he had mercy on you.’ And the man went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone marveled.”

Silence fell over the gathering. Many cast sideways glances at Yiftach and his friend, who was glaring angrily into the cup in his hand. Mark invited the gathering to stand, pronounced a benediction and said in parting, “Tomorrow we will hear the story of the healing of another person forced to live outside their community…”

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