Paying Attention

The second, longest, and most complex of this Gospel’s narrated exorcisms, Mark 5:1-20 is a tale of terror. Jesus encounters a demoniac who horrifies his neighbors by howling among tombs commandeered by diabolical powers that provoke him to appalling self-abuse. The man is impossible to restrain.

To the original hearers of the account, the story screams religious impurity because of its contact with corpses. The original hears probably heard the echo of Isaiah (65:4) describing the rebellious, stubborn nation of Israel as people who inhabit tombs and eat swine’s flesh. And then there is the demonic possession. Which in itself is bad, but again, the original listeners, when they hear the name “Legion” (Mark 5:9), pile on their revulsion at the memory of their suffering and trauma at the hands of imperial soldiers.  The man is menaced and menacing. Who could come near? What cure is possible?

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