THE 13th DISCIPLE
Text: Mark 5:1-20
The backdrop and context for our study needs to start with the Sea of Galilee. Shaped like a teardrop, dangling like a pearly pendant on Israel’s forehead, it is a teardrop of joy, not sorrow; for it is fresh water, not salty. To the West is Capernaum, a bustling hub of fishing and trade; rich, prosperous and densely populated. Buttressed by the Galilean Hills and safeguarded by a Roman garrison, Capernaum was a safe and secure place. A Base for Our Lord’s Ministry. To the East of the Sea of Galilee lies the Land of Gadarenes; composed of Gadara and nine other towns to make up Decapolis, a Gentile federation. Although governed independently, these 10 towns formed an alliance to ensure socio-economic and political stability. With a sprinkling of Jews, the population was largely Gentile with Greeks, Romans and immigrants. A veritable melting pot of cultures, creeds, beliefs and rituals.
Mark, compared to the other Gospels is unique in its style, portrayal, pace and progression. Mark presents the Messiah as the Servant with a Mission to be accomplished within a compressed time zone. We therefore find more action than words; more miracles than messages. Mark’s Gospel, chapter after chapter, reverberates with high octane energy, excitement and emotion. In Chapter 3, Jesus chooses His 12 disciples who will henceforth accompany Him for the entire duration of His Ministry on Earth. Hardly a few weeks ‘old’ the disciples are learning the ropes and coming to grips with the unique roles conferred on them. To be a true disciple, the person has to be a follower; a learner and above all an imitator. To think, behave, act, do and be like the Master in all aspects. Undoubtedly a daunting task indeed!
The disciples believe that Capernaum is going to be the base and the nodal point for all their activities. To their consternation, in Chapter 4, Our Lord bids: Let us cross over to the other side! To leave Galilee and speed to Gadara! To move from the familiar to the unfamiliar; the known to the unknown. The disciples are going to go through an experiential learning program in a live situation. When Our Lord bids: Let us cross over to the other side ……..there are 3 implications:
1. It is an invitation to be part of The Mission
2. It is an opportunity to get a revelation of The Master.
3. It is a demonstration of how to convey The Message of eternal value.
A thinker rightly pointed out, a ship is not built for the harbor. Its sails are to strain against the fierce winds, its bows need to break the surging waves and ride the storms to show its sea-worthiness. To carry the analogy, ‘Discipleship’ also needs to be tested in the waters; not confined to the land. And thus the disciples embark on a journey to the other side; little realizing what is in store for them.
Right enough, when they are in the middle of the sea; there is a violent outbreak in the weather. A furious storm pounds the vessel and waves as high as 20 feet threaten to capsize the vessel. The disciples panic and chagrined to find The Master asleep. In abject fear and flurry they awaken The Master. Jesus rebukes the waves and restores calm. He chides the disciples for their lack of faith. How is it that they do not yet realize that when they are bidden to cross to the other side; it is not merely a journey on water, but a journey of faith?? The storm in the sea is stilled; the equally raging fears and doubts in the minds of the disciples are now calmed. The journey continues.
The vessel docks in Gadara. This is a new land, a new experience for the disciples. Would there be a reception committee awaiting them? Would not have Jesus’ fame already reached the shores of Gadara? To their dismay and horror; they are in for a rude shock. Rushing towards them from the nearby tombs is a wild, unkempt reprehensible specimen of a man, demonized, screaming and flailing arms with legs with pieces of broken chains dangling from them blood streaming all over from cuts and gashes made by sharp stones and stark naked. Even when this man was at a distance, Jesus had espied him and knowing that he was possessed by demons, had commanded the demons to depart. Now this man screeches to a halt, drops to his knees at The Master’s feet and screams: Why are you tormenting me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Go away from here!!
The tombs represent the land of the dead; the chains, bondage and slavery; the stone cuts and gashes, self inflicted judgment on sin and nakedness, abject humiliation and shame. The demoniac symbolizes and epitomizes all that Gadarenes stands for. A tragic commentary of the prevalent spiritual condition. The demoniac is the scapegoat of Gadarene Society. He is the bearer of the accumulated sin and suffers for the same. His name is Legion. We are many. Not one sin or two; a whole host. Like the Roman Legion: 6000 infantry and 300 cavalry. Overwhelmingly powerful, indestructible, dangerous and diabolical.
This startling spectacle quakes the disciples even further. Here is a demon possessed man, hardly in possession of his faculties, affirming the deity of Jesus whereas they, the chosen few are still deliberating who Jesus is. It may be recalled that soon after Jesus calms the storm, the disciples huddle and confer with one another: What manner of man is this, which can still the waves? Now, witnessing the demoniac, the disciples are afforded a progressive revelation of who Jesus is! Jesus is one who not only controls the elements of Nature; but controls the elements of Man’s nature as well!
Jesus casts out the demons that enter the teeming herd of pigs. The pigs overwhelmed by this demoniac attack, hurtle to their death over the cliff plunging into the sea below. This is another rousing spectacle witnessed by the disciples. They come to understand that Jesus is no ordinary person. He is not just a miracle worker, a great teacher or healer. There is something unique, too wonderful, and too marvelous about Him. The revelation of The Master is becoming clearer and deeper.
All of a sudden the herdsmen and a large contingent of people from Gadara arrive. The disciples are excited. The news of this astounding miracle must have reached the city and now the people are coming in large numbers to acknowledge the Master and applaud Him for liberating Legion from demons and restoring him to normalcy. Again to their utter consternation, the people implore Jesus to depart from their coasts. They do not want their delicate socio-economic, cultural and spiritual eco-system to be disturbed. They prefer status quo ante. They are more concerned about their pigs and profits; not about the Savior and Souls. Jesus reluctantly turns His back and heads towards the ship.
As He is stepping in, He feels a tug at His garment. It is the healed demoniac. Lord, I will follow you! It has been only a few hours with The Master, but the man now feels that he owes his life, his all to The Master. He is ready to commit, dedicate and surrender himself wholly and whole-heartedly to Jesus. This again comes is a major surprise to the disciples. All along, it has been The Master who had called out to them one by one and bid: Follow Me! But here, a man voluntarily and joyfully comes forward, offering himself to The Lord. The disciples expect Our Lord to commend this man and welcome him to the Band of the Faithful. To their great surprise, they see a totally different response. Jesus tells the man: No! Go back to your home, your friends and your people and tell them what wonderful things the Lord has done for you and how merciful He has been!
Sadly but willingly, the man turns back and returns to Gadara! On the Galilean shore, Jesus had bid the disciples: Let us cross to the other side! But now, to this man, Jesus bids: Take the side of the Cross! Elsewhere in The Bible Jesus says: If any man will follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow Me. This new convert, is to deny himself the desire and wishes to physically follow Jesus, but to show his faith and obedience he will henceforth carry out The Master’s bidding. To go back to the old haunts where he had been chained, shackled, stoned, mocked, ridiculed, insulted. To return to the people who had seen him running naked on the streets. To now become part of a society that reviled him and repulsed him. To a family that was perhaps too disgusted and to ashamed to even own him. He needs to go…go back…all the way…..evermore!
Towards the closing part of this passage, we read that that this man goes off to Decapolis and begins to tell everyone about the great things Jesus had done for him. Perhaps, this appears to be the end of his life story; for there is nothing more we hear or read of him. He slips into oblivion. Is it just the end of the story? Well no; not in the least. When we come to Mark 7:31 we find Jesus, after a long journey from Galilee to Tyre and Sidon, returning home via Decapolis. And what do we see here? We find a deaf and mute man being brought to Jesus to be healed. And soon thereafter in Mark Chapter 8, we find a large multitude following Jesus for three days without food and water. Jesus finds 7 loaves of bread, which he blesses and breaks and feeds the crowd. In Verse 9 we read that there were about four thousand people in the crowd that day. Who were these people, how did they come to Jesus? I would believe that it is the ministry of the faithful healed demoniac that brought all these people to Jesus. He had made himself part of Jesus’ Mission: To go and tell everyone about the love and mercy of Jesus. He had acknowledged and sacrificed himself the Jesus, His Master through his faithfulness and obedience. And last, but not least; he was able to witness the Message with power and conviction: People, you have seen who I was; now you see who I am! It is because of Jesus! It is this powerful witness that brought people to Christ.
Friends, when we see how Jesus blessed, broke bread and shared it with 4000 people of Decapolis; we actually see a beautiful picture of The Eucharist. Of people from a very different culture, different country, different language and different background become the Body of Christ. And through the faithful ministry of a healed demoniac, who I would like to name is the 13th Disciple. There is so much of work to be done to extend The Kingdom of God. Are you ready to be the next disciple?
God Bless and Amen.