Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"What Power Expels Us" (Part 5—Conclusion)

This is the fifth and final post of my series on the authority of Jesus in the Gerasene Demoniac episode in Mark 5:1–20. See also: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

          In my previous posts I have illustrated how the form and content of the Gerasene Demoniac episode in Mark 5:1–20 reveal what is in essence a story about power. Mark portrays Jesus as an authority more powerful than the natural and the supernatural, than Roman imperial might, and the Jewish religious system of the clean and unclean. For Myers, Jesus’ power over these latter two elements reveals the true nature of his ministry: “The narrative space has been cleared for the kingdom ministry to commence in full, both to Jew and to gentile.”[1] The begging (parakalevw) of the demons, the frightened townspeople, and the healed demoniac establish Jesus not only as an authority, but quite literally as the authority above all other perceived authorities—after all, rarely (if ever) do we find a character in scripture who pleads with a person of lesser status.
            And by what power does Jesus himself cast out demons? A clue is to be found in Jesus’ sending forth of the healed demoniac. When Jesus refuses to allow the man to become a disciple, he instead tells him: “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you” (v.19). Instead, however, the man begins to proclaim all around the region of the Decapolis “how much Jesus had done for him” (v.20). With this subtle change, the author of Mark thus conflates a term previously reserved as a euphemism for the holy name of God (YHWH) in the Hebrew Bible with the very name of Jesus. The power by which Jesus casts out demons is none other than the power of the God of Israel. Without raising a hand in retaliation, without resorting to the same tactics of the demons, the Roman legion, or the religious establishment, Jesus—son of the Most High God—is capable of binding up the unbindable, liberating the captive from his captors by merely inquiring their name.
            It is not surprising then that upon witnessing such a display of authority at the hands of a foreigner the local inhabitants become frightened and beg Jesus to leave their country. Perhaps they—like the grumbling synagogue authorities in chapter 3—are seized with the superstitious fear that “by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons” (3:22). And yet a more probable explanation is that the power witnessed by the townsfolk was their first experience of the truly ineffable. They had seen demons inhabit human bodies, and undoubtedly been privy to the wiles of traveling charlatans claiming to be exorcists. The story, however, does not end in fear (v.15), but in hopeful amazement (v.20). In this strange Judean rabbi who appears on their shore to banish their oppressors and cure their incurable, the people of Gerasa catch a glimpse of the character of the Most High God, and as he leaves them (almost as suddenly as he appears), they are left in awe.

[1] Myers, 194.

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