Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Demonic Possession and Theories of Personality (Mark 5:1-15): Conclusion

1. Introduction
At one point during his public ministry, Jesus and his disciples cross the Sea of Galilee by boat and come ashore in the country of the Gerasenes (Mark 5:1). In the spiritual geography of the time, this land on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee was an unclean land, a Gentile land, an Olympian land, a land wholeheartedly devoted to the six Olympian gods, a region belonging to the Kingdom of Darkness.

Jesus, of course, embodies the Kingdom of Light. Wherever he is present, he brings the light of God’s truth, the warmth of God’s love, and the strength of God’s vitality. Wherever he is present, he frees people from being enthralled, bewitched, even possessed by the gods of darkness and their minions.

2. Today’s biblical passage

 They [Jesus and his disciples] came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke to pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and 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.” For he [Jesus] had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” So 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 sea, and was drowned in the sea.

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. They 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 (Mark 5:1-5, NRSV).

3. Meaning
The moment Jesus brings the light, warmth, and strength of his liberating presence into this dark, cold, and desperate land, he is immediately met by a man with an unclean spirit.

Jesus is the bearer of the Spirit of Life while this man is burdened by a very Olympian spirit of death. This demonic spirit drives its victim away from the living and amongst the tombs of the dead. There he howls and even smashes shackles in desperation as a spirit of death within him curses him with self-destructive behavior (bruising himself with stones).

Let us recall the five stages in the development of habits: initiation, inclination, habituation, mastery (but also addiction), and identification (but also possession). This poor man confronting Jesus is at the fatal fifth stage: he is wholly possessed by a demonic spirit within him. When Jesus quietly but firmly commands the spirit within him to come out of the man, this spirit begs Jesus not to torment him by speaking through the man.

We learn a bit more about this spirit of death by its response to Jesus. When Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” The spirit could have said its name was Polloi because that means the many or the multitude. Instead it identified itself as Legion, which, like the other legions in this unclean Olympian borderland, is a multitude identified with and disciplined by Jupiter god of politics. The demons in this man are minions of Jupiter.

Perhaps this man is a disillusioned legionnaire. Perhaps he had joined the army as an expression of pride and as a seeker of adventure and some upward mobility. Perhaps he had then witnessed atrocities; not just once, not just a few times in unusual circumstances, but routinely as a matter of policy. Perhaps he had grown to hate the lethal spirit of Jupiter with which he had identified but now could not rid himself of.

Strangely, Jesus gives the unclean spirits permission to enter the unclean swine grazing nearby. Death again results: the unclean spirits drive the unclean swine into the sea.

But people came…and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind. Jesus spoke a word of truth to the demoniac. The minions of Jupiter within him were unable to resist this word and fled. Without them the demoniac’s personality, while still Olympian, was freed from its fatal identification with Jupiter. The man rejoined his fellow human beings by sitting with Jesus, getting clothed again, and being in his right mind once more.

3. Application
Following the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, every person has two personalities: an Olympia one and a Christian one.

If we increase the variety and strength of our Olympian habits and personality, then we increase the clarity of our witness to the six false gods of politics, war, technology, sex, money, and consumption. If we increase the variety and strength of our Christian habits and personality, then we witness better to the truth, freedom, love, and vitality of Christ.

Increasing the variety and strength of our Olympian habits and personality, however, has destructive consequences. The better we embody the gods, the greater their control of us grows. Beyond a certain point, we may well wish to be rid of them, we may well want to abandon the self-destructive behavior they inspire, but they will respond by controlling us even more relentlessly.

Let us thank Jesus! To begin with, no contest of strength exists between his Spirit of Life and all Olympian spirits of death. Jesus embodies truth, love, and life. Wherever he is present he shines and in shining he frees us from all dark, cold, desperate spirits.

Wherever he is present, and he’s present everywhere, Christian personalities may be radically strengthened and Olympian ones radically weakened. One common idea among Christians is that Jesus hates the sin but loves the sinner. That’s not true. Jesus loves our Christian personality but hates our Olympian one. He loves to strengthen our creative Christian personality and weaken our destructive Olympian one. In the age to come he will destroy our Olympian personality altogether.

Today, the six Olympian gods all use technological means to intensify their control of our Olympian personality and to disastrously weaken our Christian one. At the same time, we each now have the Spirit of Life burning brightly inside our Christian heart. To release the power of that Spirit, all that is needed is a word of truth to spark it. Jesus spoke that word of truth to the Gerasene demoniac when he commanded the minions of Jupiter to leave him. May we discern and affirm the words of truth which Jesus speaks to us today. May we also be bold enough to spark others by speaking the words of truth he gives us to share with them.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.