By Collin Ross
In the The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy endures a great windstorm that drops her into a foreign land where she famously says, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Peter very well could have said something similar as he stepped out of the boat, for Jesus and His disciples had left their native Jewish soil for Gentile country. And who is the first person they encounter? Quite possibly a man as despicable as a God-fearing Jew could imagine. In the Jewish mind, pigs and graves were defiling things, which makes the man who rushes out to meet Jesus as unclean as one could get.
But we immediately recognize that there is more to it than that. Mark, who usually relays his stories at a quick pace, gives us an uncharacteristically detailed description of this man’s plight. He is captive to an evil and oppressive force that has left him in tatters. He is at the mercy of a power so formidable it is like the legions of Rome that brutalize any and all resistance they encounter. His neighbors, seeing the writing on the wall, tried to bind him in chains. There was simply no way to help this guy.
Enter Jesus—the Messiah, the Son of God, the Davidic King who is announcing the arrival of God’s kingdom. What will happen when these two powers come face-to-face, the power that has come to restore humanity and the power bent on destroying it? And yet, the battle is over before it even begins. The oppressors surrender on sight, and King Jesus sends them, tails tucked between their legs and squealing in defeat, back to where they came.
Without question, the scriptures present a worldview that acknowledges a spiritual battle underlying the pain and injustice we see in the world. Knowing this, Mark records this story to remind us that Christ’s power to rescue, restore, and heal is far greater than any force of evil. In this instance, one man’s nightmare ended, but Jesus wasn’t finished. Like this unnamed man, Jesus Himself would be stripped naked, abandoned, and His flesh torn. In love, He would allow the “Legions” of the world to do their worst to Him so that He might take the full force of evil upon Himself and give people like us a new life, free from oppression.
How are we to respond to this unearned gift of freedom? Listen again to Christ’s instructions to the restored man: “Go home to your own people, and report to them how much the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19). Before, this man was living a broken existence. Now, he takes the light of Christ’s salvation to those who are lost in darkness. May we, who have been given new life in Jesus, go and do likewise.