Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Mark 5:6-13 - Part I

And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me." For he was saying to him, "Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!" And Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" He replied, "My name is Legion, for we are many." And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him, saying, "Send us to the pigs; let us enter them." So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the pigs, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea. (Mark 5:6-13)

Wow! If someone were to produce it correctly, there is a great movie here. You could have the whole back-story of the demonized man, along with the recent harrowing journey Jesus and his crew just experienced to get here. I could even see some flashbacks to when the legion of demons knew Jesus before their exile, and how that plays into our reading today. Then (spoiler alert) this man being freed from the demons only to have them sent into a massive herd of pigs to be run into the sea and drown. Finally, as we'll hopefully read soon, a town reacting to the events and a new man starting his life anew. Am I the only one that'd go to the theater to see that?

As I read this, I am seeing three major components to the passage. First, there is the whole interaction/conversation between the man/demons and Jesus. Secondly, the casting out of the demons into the herd of pigs. Finally, what does it all mean? What is the take away?

The conversation

I tried to determine based on the geography of that region today, the shortest distance from the shore to the mountains (Google Earth is such a useful tool). Best I could guess it was from 1/2 to 1 mile or so, depending on where on the shore you landed, and where you determined the "mountains" start. The point being that it says, "he saw Jesus from afar", and I was trying to imagine if he perhaps saw their boat come ashore, or if they had been walking a bit by then. It was probably possible to see the boat come in, and I imagine that the demons were quite aware of Jesus' presence well before people were. 

Question: When it says, "he ran and fell down before him", who ran? Did the man run, or were the demons that were controlling him cause him to run? I'm just curious about that distinction. Were they in a hurry to get to Jesus, or was it the man? The word translated "he ran" is εδραμεν. Luke uses it when describing Peter running to the tomb after Jesus' resurrection (Luke 24:12), the same spelling and tense - "he ran". The reason I even ask is because once the man gets to Jesus, it says, "he said, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?". The words are "he said", but everything about the context points to the demons speaking here. Therefore, who ran and who said the words? Ultimately, does it matter?

I can't definitively answer that, but until the man speaks and the demonic presence is revealed, there is nothing to suggest that it isn't anyone but the man himself. Mark is relating this story to an audience, and he obviously envisioned a particular audience when writing it (as I'm sure you read this post from 2009, we already know it was most likely Roman believers). The point is that his audience has a preexisting worldview that would have provided a scaffold for how events are related, how people interact and react to certain things. Therefore, for Mark to make assumptions counter to his intended audience would have been detrimental to the effective communication of this gospel. All that to say, the context suggests the man is doing the running, and the man is speaking. The motives of the demons and the subsequent influence upon the man would appear indistinguishable to an observer.

Before I move on though, take a second to imagine what the disciples must have had going through their heads at this point. A naked, screaming maniac is coming right at them! They just got back on land after fearing for their lives, Jesus miraculously commands the wind and waves, and now a crazy man is rushing at them, with what does not appear to be good intentions. Wow!

Fell down before him

The next stroke of the brush is courtesy of the Greek word rendered, "fell down before him", προσεκύνησεν. Could there have been a different word used here? Mark uses this word later in describing the Roman guards that beat and mocked Jesus before His crucifixion.
They kept beating His head with a reed, and spitting on Him, and kneeling and bowing before (προσεκύνουν) Him. (Mark 15:19)

We all know that words in the English language can lend themselves to certain mental-pictures that convey unspoken details of their meaning. Well, so too does this word. In Mark 15:19 there is a word alongside this that is translated "kneeling" (γόνατα)... that's pretty self-explanatory. But, in trying to understand the full meaning of the word in Mark 5:6, προσεκύνησεν, I learned that it's derived from two other Greek words: προσ which means "to regard", and κύων, "a dog". Kneeling has its inherent meaning, but this "bowing before" is meant to convey something more. Apparently, the word picture is that of a dog cowering before his master, perhaps even licking the hand of the owner, not because of fear so much, but of respect, honor, and reverence. It says without a doubt, "you are the master and I am not." It is an acknowledgement of Jesus' power, control, and authority over all, even the fallen angels. The Old Testament makes reference to this behavior of the enemy before the King. Isaiah 49:23 mentions, "With their faces to the ground they shall bow down to you, and lick the dust of your feet." Psalm 72:9 says, "May the desert tribes bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust." Complete and utter submission is what we see in this action.

I adjure you by God

The demons speak through the man, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?" I recall from Mark 1:24 that the demon asked the same question. If you heard one demon oppressed individual ask this question, wouldn't your ears perk up when you heard it again? That first time in the temple, the demon threw the man to the ground convulsing. I have to imagine the disciples had their attention grabbed when they heard this man ask the same question. Someone had to at least be thinking, "Uh oh, here we go again..."

"I adjure you by God, do not torment me." Adjure; we don't use that word much today. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it, "to command solemnly under or as if under oath or penalty of a curse". This is more than a plea or a request. Remember, the man is kneeling, conveying a posture of utter submission, yet the demon feels brave enough to make a request? Not only is it a request, but one made "by God". The demons have revealed a great deal about their theology.

That's right, demonic theology. Simply speaking, theology is what is known about God, and the study of God. The Greek word, θεολογία, is θεολ + λογία, giving us the idea of 'discourse' or 'rational word on God'. The demons know there is a God (James 2:19), and they know where they fit into the picture, if you know what I mean. They understand they have an appointment with Jesus, so the sight of Him approaching must have stirred thoughts that now was the time, and they are quick to petition the Judge for mercy. Which gets us back to the "adjure you by God" part of this: what exactly are they saying here? 

I believe it shows that they are fully aware that while Jesus walked the earth as a man, He was subordinate in role as to be fully obedient to the will of the Father, and thus the request is made against that Authority. Another aspect of their theology that I think we see here is that they understand that Jesus is the Son of God ( they do address Him as such ) and they therefore know His character. If they can get to Him to place Himself under oath that He will not torment them, they understand He will not violate that oath. What do we learn by all of this? The forces of darkness can spout sound theology. They are beholden to the facts as they know them. Yet, Matthew Henry says it best, 
"There is no judging of men by their loose sayings; but by their fruits ye shall know them Piety from the teeth outward is an easy thing. The most fair-spoken hypocrite cannot say better than to call Jesus the Son of God, and yet that the devil did also."