Mark 5:21

By the time Jesus had recrossed in the boat to the opposite shore, a great number of people had gathered to meet him, and were standing by the sea.

crossing water
crossing desert
crossing plain
crossing glacier
crossing borders
crossing cultures
crossing crossings

is all as one
some travel better
through one than another
call and gifts may not align
it matters little
each holds its opportunity
in journey’s beginning middle end

head directly north or east
southward or westerly
spiral in or out
every pattern contains beauty
released along its way
reconnecting knowledge with life
to heal our wilderness

head where you will
resistance is futile
the heat of our revenge
will find shade
teaching what we already know
mercy repentance healing forgiveness
are worth sharing everywhere/when

“Again!” Remember that this sets up a parallelism which is a key element in Hebraic poetry. Try writing the previous story as one stanza and the coming story as a next stanza. What word plays and images would begin pairing to set off deepening echoes of one other?

A large crowd has just implored Jesus and his retinue to leave their place. A large crowd gathers to welcome Jesus and his boatload of learners to their place.

The welcomers were earlier left pondering teachings about seeds. They may well expect that teaching to continue, but an occasion of mercy happened which was as surprising as mercies of belovedness and learning from temptations. There is no simple return to continue yesterday. Today is different.

So we find the yin and yang of a river of life, the same and different when next we put in. It is at points of blockages and releases of qi, at the vulnerable place of outcast and death, where mercy becomes more recognizable.

When life is able to adjust to various levels of injustice and hold on to current privileges, no matter how small, we are too distracted to attend well to mercy’s quiet flow. Don’t be distracted by the crowds, present as a Greek chorus, the propelling action is more particular.

Mark 5:20

So the man went, and began to proclaim in the district of the Ten Towns all that Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.

one by one
if need be
two by two

we go forth
ever adding texture
to suspect trinity

surprise never ends
when experience blesses
with new options

with unknown depth
we dare death
with mercy’s touch

never left behind
advance toward health
mine and yours

every encounter widens
limits on forgiveness
until Paradise returns

seventy times seventy
times and places
I go forth

Amazement is one starting point for making a heart change. This state of surprise, that a personal story introduced into a social setting where little is expected to change, pushes back a curtain fate tries to draw over our lives so we glimpse where we might engage to make a difference.

If unrepentant madness is not an immovable state, we can look around for levers and fulcra to see about occupiers and other inequities where a few are sacrificed on an altar of, “Too bad for them, we have always done it this way”.

This possibility of making a change is not all sweetness and light. A part of the amazement is that this person who is responsible for the dead pigs does not try to work his way into the good graces of family and friends by blaming those Jews from across the lake or their G*D. The difficulties that eventuated from his having been treated mercifully are still real economic losses. Any difficulties with the authorities, still remain.

A focus on mercy sets our usual resentments and fears into a larger perspective. This is worth practicing.

As we leave this part of Mark’s story with Jesus’ boat leaving through bobbing pig bodies and a story of an ambassador of mercy, store this story for it sets a stage for additional healings in Chapter 7 during Jesus’ next swing through the Decapolis.

Mark 5:19

But Jesus refused.  “Go back to your home, to your own people,” he said,  “and tell them of all that the Lord has done for you, and how he took pity on you.”

you do know don’t you
mercy is never a degree earned
after which authority is granted

an experience of mercy
is a never-ending reservoir
with which to practice mercy

like Scarecrow’s brain Tinman’s heart
Lion’s courage and Dorothy’s home
once recognized always available

as a mercified person
compassion will float to the top
simply skim it and anoint with it

as a new person
the oldest place is also new
be not timid for I am with you

you are already aboard
HMS Mercy
raise sail adventure forth

It seems true enough that experience is worth more than a certifying authority. With or without a Doctor of Ministry degree, pastoral and missional care is extended.

Do note the lack of notice regarding required and tested knowledge of church history or ecclesiology. There is no systematic theology statement asked for. Even the practical matter of institutional management or clinical pastoral education is set to the side.

What we hear is something that can be done anytime, anywhere.

First, be among those with whom you have common language.

Second, tell your experience.

Third, set the context of your experience in a larger setting. In this case “mercy”.

This mercy is at once a completed reality (“tell what has been done”) and a never-ending beginning (“tell what continues in you”). It is here that more work needs doing as our tendency is to turn a living-mercy into a ritualistic framework in an attempt to re-capture it. Eyes to see the on-going echoes of an original mercy are what keep things alive. More merciful experiences are intended to follow every mercy.

Telling about Jesus is one part of a missional equation. But without showing how our experience of mercy continues to grow, it is but an old story that eventually loses its cachet, unable to renew hearts.

Mark 5:18

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the possessed man begged him to let him stay with him.

I know this happened within me
but have no clue about the how
I once was simply against
and now desire to be with again
this land lover is willing
to sail a stormy sea
to learn to open a larger way
through any angry wilderness
to a green pasture

with bended knee I implore
with raised fist I demand
a privilege and right
to come and learn
I have hitched my star
to your moveable feast
that together we might feed
the insatiable hungers
misleading satisfaction’s lair

here among familiar desires
I don’t stand a chance
the smashing of piggy banks
excuse owners blacklisting my labor
there is nothing left
but voluntary deportation
and so my appeal
to your revealed goodness
add me to your crew

Here it is helpful to bring to mind the scene in Saigon, Vietnam as the last American helicopter is evacuating those who are being forced away. This is emotional effect of, “pleaded with to leave”.

Focus in on those pleading to be on that last opportunity to escape. When the protagonist protector is gone, there will be no quarter given to those who aided destruction of the culture or economy, and a realpolitik of who is in charge would put them at risk.

The one once left roaming the cemeteries and is the source of bloated pigs floating on the sea sets a question to Jesus similar to those of his disciples in the face of hungry crowds, “Who will feed me?”

How will this Gentile continue to deepen his journey begun with his healing if he is not able to join the Jewish band of brothers?

Whether looking at this through the eyes of our usual understanding of retribution and the danger the former wild-man is in if left behind or the loss of a deepening of discipleship unasked by those previously healed—this person’s future is awaiting a sorting out. The Christian Community Bible has a note that Jesus “values one man more than many pigs”. This is a wonderful creedal statement that feels different this far removed from the drama of a moment.

Mark 5:17

so they began to beg Jesus to leave their region.

native folk are shunted
from reservation to reservation
as one more valuable resource
justifies one more exploitation

commercial considerations trump
one life or many or all
your bleeding heart threatens
my provisional possessions

in such an unequal contest
birds in hand and traps for more
dare not be put at risk
for less than even more

call out state police and militia
call forth religious prosperity
demand do-gooders return to fishing
remand small-ball healers to exile

invisible native women and children
lead inevitably to an explosion
with no canary warning
mammon’s hollowness implodes

Antecedents are tricky at the best of times. In stressful situations, their vagueness, can add to the confusions. “They” does not refer back to the immediate eye-witnesses, but to all those who came out to see about the report of a mass pig suicide.

The considered judgment rendered here is that the economic, political, military considerations are worth more than one person. In John’s Gospel, Caiaphas’ memorable phrase will reflect this ancient and very contemporary communal sentiment as a choice between one Person and a whole Nation/Empire.

Given the Roman counter-insurgency actions during this time and the ever-present threat of one power or another that will further disadvantage us in the present, this is one of those decisions we will do our best to explain, normalize, categorize, and forget. Having experienced the trampling might of empire makes this an understandable response.

The seeds of cognitive dissonance sown by this choice are still present and are enough to haunt for generations. When we see ourselves as the one being given up, it can change the calculus of response. It is this question of communal value that Jesus is listening for, whether 2,000 years ago or earlier today. Questions of the intersections of our identity continually bubble to the top. How many dismissals of another person or group will I witness before I see our common good at risk and expand my responses?

Mark 5:16

Then those who had seen it related to them all that had happened to the possessed man, as well as about the pigs;

little by little
we reconstruct a crime scene
investigative tools are accumulated
models are tested and refined
success on TV only takes an hour

bit by bit
we take in on-going mysteries of life
a meditation here revelation there
individual blessing v. communal goods
approach resolution with Zeno slowness

piece by piece
values and accommodations show
revealed through consensus
as loud majorities learn larger truths
and we move by steps and jumps

An eye-witness account brings to mind a trial. We can almost hear multiple stories vying for attention and those with lawyerly minds trying to shape questions that will clarify the scene for those who were not there.

This reflects some of the double grammatical reference to a single event that is found in the Greek.

As in any scene where there are multiple reports being told, there is a matter of both the physical location of the witness as well as their state of mind or additional investments (job security and the like). Some witnesses focus on the man, influenced by the return of one of their own or someone they know who needs a similar healing. Others will be concerned about the pigs—what this does to their economic affairs or any consequence coming from the Romans who now won’t be feasting on tasty cracklings or bacon.

Confusion is the order of this verse. The result of confusion is generally a making of things worse as the scaredest voice becomes the loudest. Those with the clearest agenda will find a way to use the confusion to their advantage. Note that it is easier to set lines of division than to invite inclusion past current boundaries.

Whether attention is given to the healing of a person or the stampede of the pigs, a power has been recognizably released and everyone knows that this is a call to re-organize the culture or to double down on the present troubles. Even though there is no staying the same, stasis is still our default perspective and everyone knows trouble has already been stirred. It is just a matter of time before this power will request changes in each person present. Pretty scary.

Mark 5:15

When they came to Jesus, they found the possessed man sitting there, clothed and in his right mind – the man who had had the ‘Legion’ in him – and they were awe-struck.

we come running to a disaster
expecting the worst
ready with a favorite conspiracy
eager to blame

not ready to be surprised
by a small blessing
in a larger values question
caught between fear awe wonder

caught off guard reveals our practice
of enough amid abundance
shaping our premeditated response
of mercy and joy

Translators of “holy words” are notorious for protecting those words through conscious and unconscious Bowdlerizing—making things sound pious and pretty rather than accurate.

Here we have two such obfuscations. The first is in the third line, “with many demons”. This is not a parallelism, but is redundant from the end of the second line and covers up the public, plural, and political overtones of τὸν λεγιῶνα (the Legion) by using “many demons”.

The second distortion is a critical narrative point for Mark’s reporting. The final word is here translated “awe”. The Greek word ἐφοβήθησαν is better heard as “fear”. Strong’s Concordence says this word is translated as “fear” (62 times), “be afraid (23x), be afraid of” (5x) and as “reverence” or awe only once. While a case could be made for “awe” turned to “fear”, even as crowds make the same shift in their relationship with Jesus and play a part in his eventual murder by the state, it seems that a first response would be more fear-like—“Oh oh, can we trust this is not a trick and he’ll tear his clothes off and attack us?!”

A key question is what other softened phrasing have you spotted in your reading of the Bible. If you have not suspected that there is more irony and challenge than a pious reading will reveal, it suggests having put your trust in translators of the institution rather than a strong spirit unsatisfied that the status quo is sufficient for this day, much less tomorrow. A finer, closer, reading will bring a “changed heart” much sooner.

Mark 5:14

Then the men who tended them ran away, and carried the news to the town, and to the country around; and the people went to see what had happened.

never seeing a whole picture
we tell our part

it is difficult to not speculate
beyond our few factoids

meaning seekers tell stories
first to self and then to others

this saying more than can be known
sets up division and antagonism

seldom in this is the fault ours
something slouching and external came

our suffering requires an implacable evil
to outweigh our frail ego

It is still important to be the first to break a story for this is the narrative that sets available responses.

Those responsible for the care of the pigs have a responsibility to themselves to report their innocence in the loss of valuable resources in their care. Of course they need to clear their name and the easiest way to do that is to report a terrorist attack. Demons did it and Jesus gave them permission. He’s to blame, not us. With jobs at stake, reporting tells more than can be known by shaving off a detail here and subtly suggesting an inference there.

In a dysfunctional system that is inherent in gaps between rich and poor, occupier and occupied, the practical matter of job security is critical to the marginalized. If it is a choice between one mad man and a herd of pigs, the pigs win—every time.

People are not just neutrally coming to see what happened. A car crash is expected and a gapers-block is the best that can be expected. More likely minds have been made up and a story is well on the way to being shaped. Frankenstein’s monster brought forth pitchforks. Jesus is already being seen as holding a pitchfork larger than the Devil’s own. Nervousness and jumpiness are the order of the day. There is no fair and balanced counter-narrative available. Only preapproved echo-chamber phrases will be offered.

24/7 news cycles have nothing on a local grapevine when it comes to bad news. Tales are spun, pictures painted, explanations given—all ahead of any news about one back in his own mind. The stock market is down. This hits the whole economy and who knows what cranky decisions hungry Romans will take out on everyone.

Mark 5:13

Jesus gave them leave. They came out, and entered into the pigs; and the drove – about two thousand in number – rushed down the steep slope into the sea and were drowned in the sea.

permission to be ourself
opens a hand to release
Pandoran fact and fantasy

invasive species run wild
upsetting usual accommodations
eroding standardized relationships

seeing the result of our toxicity
injected in a test animal
elicits a sense of great pity

yes we’ve wanted to drown
a first-step refusing secret
at a horrendous cost we awake

there is no taking back harm done
for all that has been weep
for all to come choose again

The slightest of nods is sufficient for Legion to bolt before a second thought can be brought to bear and they find themselves even further afield.

This is not a slow exit like a Guinea Worm but a mad dash as Legion swarmed out. Such an exit would likely leave the still unnamed man (meaning you or me or all) both relieved and seizuring.

And so the irony as described by Perkins:

Although the demons try to avoid being driven out of the country, they wind up in the sea (the waters of chaos), where they belong. To a Jewish audience the loss of such an enormous number of swine might have been a humorous reversal in the story. Or, if the impurity of the setting was evoked by the swine, the drowned legion of demons suggests that Jesus has cleansed the area.

Such a potential cleansing is not limited to the biblical literalism identifying swine, by virtue of their hooves, as unclean. The uncleanliness of Empire must also be considered. While priests may rejoice at the keeping of the letter of the law, Jesus’ prophetic tradition is never satisfied with such an easy response. That which Legion represents, the economic/military machine that is Rome, must also be included—even as it would include the economic/military machine that is present day United States of America (as well as other powers such as Russia, China, and India—including anti-client-states such as ISIS).

The process of making whole again is never only individual, but touches every part of a context. We seem to seldom get out of dis-ease other than through paroxysm.

Mark 5:12

and the spirits begged Jesus, “Send us into the pigs so that we can take possession of them.”

every demon seeks eternality
any life extension is worth pursuing
there is no quit or death chi here
only unregulated persistence

open-eyed assessment reveals moments
each unfated conversionable
strung together as a tale
wagging its teller

a next planned move is unavoidable
filled with ironic consequences
undifferentiated on the surface
from any wild-haired scheme

not even a retreat into serendipity
avoids terrible no-good days
in the end there is no escape
not even well-practiced detachment

best plans are agleed
worst qualities rise
a cure but delays decay
we are but who we are

In verse 10 there is a pleading for compassion for that which would allow the continued presence of Legion in the area. This would mean that the Nothing or Emptiness of Life would continue to be present and grow there. The Empire can continue.

As it becomes evident the appeal for a special dispensation is not going to be honored and Legion is going to have to move beyond their current host, there comes the existential question, “What now?”

When pigs on a hillside are spotted, it only takes a moment to see a potential staging area from which to search for a new host—let’s go there.

An appealing plea shifts into high gear and we move to the next level of unabashed begging. To avoid banishment, Legion will settle for worse conditions rather than no conditions. In the same way we put up with disastrous weather as being better than no weather at all.

In the present and in every time, we do well to see what options are available to us. Too often we settle for a demotion as the better option to being fired without asking structural questions of what brought about a loss of jobs and income for laborers. Here a choice needs to be made between receiving less-and-less and separating into multiple minorities fighting one another or joining, across differences, in common cause. Have today’s intentionally disadvantaged simply settled for a shrinking sty? If so, it is likely that an exorcism of or revolution against the current Legion/Empire will, sooner or later, arise.