URC Daily Devotion Monday 6th May 2024

Mark 5: 1-20

They came to the other side of the lake, 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 in 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 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 lake, and were drowned in the lake. 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. Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it.  Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighbourhood.  As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. But 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.’  And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.

Reflection

It’s only in recent decades that biblical scholars have intentionally asked, ‘What if the empires are influencing the biblical story?’ And then they started seeing it everywhere. In the gospels, so much is coloured by the Roman Empire: ‘gospel’ (news of military victory), ‘kingdom’ (from the Greek basileia, which also means ‘empire’), the titles ‘son of God’, ‘saviour’, ‘light of the world’, ‘good shepherd’ were all used of the emperor, ‘peace’ (in contrast to Pax Romana, secured by imperial violence), taxes and collectors, coins, ‘taking up your cross’, crucifixion, and so on. So the gospel-writers were using loaded terms in distinctly different ways. After all, the Empire colonised the economy, politics, ideologies and religious norms (the Temple being bound up with the colonial State), so there was no space free from imperial influence. This doesn’t mean Jesus was an armed revolutionary against the Empire, like the Zealots, but repeatedly we see that the alternative kingdom/empire was subversive. (For example, ‘Give to the emperor’, in Mark 12:17, isn’t affirming Empire, but rejecting it: ‘Give back to Caesar this worthless coin’.)

The story of the Gerasene demoniac is absolutely explicit about the damaging presence of Empire. The spirit which oppressed him, as a representative of the people at large, is Legion: a sign of military imperialism. It caused him to harm himself and to live among the dead. This is Empire: colonising at a personal and social level, denying life to the people. We too are colonised by spirits of empire: forces which tell us that inequity, violence, social fracture are inevitable and normal. By contrast, Jesus frees us from these entanglements – but it is not straightforward; we struggle between two worlds, but can we hear the cries from among the tombs, those oppressed by the systems we take for granted?  

Prayer 

Liberating God,
We’re part of systems we can’t control.
They even affect how we think
and what we believe is possible.
Help us to be alert to the cries of those
who suffer because of the economy
and our unthinking judgments;
who bear the weight of racism,
sexism, homophobia and transphobia;
all who yearn and struggle for freedom.
May we join with you
in dreaming and working for the realm
of love and justice.
Amen.

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