Readings: 2 Samuel 15:13-14,30; 16:5-13; Psalm 3; Mark 5:1-20
Today we read one of the strangest stories in the gospels, about the demoniac called Legion from whom many demons were cast out. Jesus sent the demons into a herd of pigs that promptly ran over a cliff into the sea and drowned. It is one of a series of stories, brought together in Mark's gospel, which shows the power of Jesus over creation.
First there is the calming of a storm at sea. Those who witnessed it were filled with awe, saying to one another 'who is this that even wind and sea obey him?' (4:41). Nature, and especially the waters, are in his hands, he who is the Divine Wisdom through whom all things were made.
Next follows today's episode in which we see that Jesus has power over two other levels of creation, demons and animals (5:1-20). All who heard of it marveled, we are told, and the man who had been cured became a preacher and a witness to Jesus, proclaiming in pagan territory (the Decapolis) how much Jesus had done for him.
Then we read the double story of the daughter of Jairus, raised from the dead, and the woman with a haemhorrage (5:21-43) who surreptitiously touches the garments of Jesus but he knew that power had gone out from him and asks who it is that has touched him. Again we see the power of Jesus over the creation: he can even heal the sick and raise the dead. For a third time people are filled with amazement.
Dumb nature, demons, animals, the forces of sickness and even death: all of it falls under the power of Jesus. It provides a striking run up to what comes in chapter 6, the rejection of Jesus at Nazareth. It seems that there is one force in creation over which Jesus does not exercise absolute control. That force is human freedom. He can present himself to it, appeal to it, offer good things to it, but he does not force it, does not replace it, does not oblige it to act against what it chooses to do.
Free human acts are as much the creation of God as anything else that has being (although God is not responsible for the evil there is in evil human acts). By the Spirit, God makes us do freely what is good - this is how Thomas Aquinas paradoxically expresses it. Human freedom is not displaced by God's power but rather fully established by that power. This is what grace does in healing our freedom. But there is still the possibility of rejecting the gift of God, of saying 'I prefer my own way', 'I choose the good as I see it rather than as you have presented it to me'. And this is what we mean by sin.
The power of sin may sometimes seem trivial compared with storms at sea, demonic possession, illness, and death. At other times we see very clearly the power of sin to destroy human lives. It is always radically destructive, even when we do not immediately see its consequences. The human animal, created to worship and to love the Creator, also has the capacity to reject God's loving purpose. We cannot frustrate it or prevent it coming about. But we can do great damage to ourselves, to others, and to God's creation, when we assert our power independently of God's wisdom. Then it is we who have become demonic, disfigured creatures, who must call out to the Son of the Most High, asking for his help if we are once again to worship and to believe.