19 June 2016

Luke 8:26-39

“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” (v. 39)

Psalm: Psalm 22


Today's passage from Luke's Gospel can be a challenging one for modern readers. It deals with subjects such as demon-possession, wonder-working and the strict division between the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds that would have been very familiar to Luke's first audience but may leave us confused. Conversely, the suffering of the man in the story may bring to our mind questions about mental health issues that simply would not have been asked by Jesus' contemporaries.

The story itself is also found in Mark 5:1-20, with slight variations. It takes place "at the country of the Gerasenes" (v.1). We believe that this was on the south-eastern edge of the Sea (or Lake) of Galilee. What is important is that this was gentile - non-Jewish - territory and Jesus' work here arguably anticipates the important mission to the Gentiles that Luke goes on to record in his second book, Acts. It is also significant that the story takes place immediately after Jesus has calmed a storm on the lake (Luke 8:22-25), using similar language of rebuke and authority, and immediately before two miraculous healing stories (Luke 8:40-56). Together these passages make it clear that Jesus enjoys absolute, God-given authority over all aspects of human, natural and spiritual life.

Luke makes it apparent in this passage that the man has suffered greatly from the possession: he has been forced to live outside, amongst the gravestones (verse 27), and was bound by strong chains (verse 29). The severity of his condition is underlined by the description of the demons possessing him as Legion (verse 30). A Roman legion consisted of about 6,000 soldiers but the name arguably referred not to the exact number of demons but rather to their power over the man. Even they cannot resist Jesus' authority, though, and are despatched into a herd of pigs, animals regarded as 'unclean' in Judaism. It may be that this was done as a visible demonstration that the man was now cured but we cannot be certain. Whatever the truth about this miracle, the end result is certain. The man was healed, restored to his community and became one of Jesus' first missionaries to the non-Jewish world.

To Ponder

  • Stories of demon-possession like this one are frequent in the Gospels yet they pose real challenges to many Christians today. How might we understand them?
  • What can the story teach you about how we treat those on the fringes of our society?
  • Do you ever feel able to proclaim what Jesus has done for you in your own communities? If not, why not?

Bible notes author

The Revd Geoffrey Farrar

Geoffrey Farrar is currently a Methodist presbyter in the West Hertfordshire and Borders Circuit of the Methodist Church, where he has pastoral charge of three churches in the Watford area. He trained at Wesley House in Cambridge and has recently completed an MA in Ancient History with the University of Trinity Saint David.