In Jesus’ day, the Galilee region constituted a meeting point of cultures from all corners of the known world, a place where orthodox Judaism collided with the pagan rites, and Jewish zealots clashed with Roman legions, often times with tragic consequences. From the very beginning of his earthly ministry, Jesus was making it perfectly clear that His Gospel was to have an international audience; confronting Jewish fishermen, Samaritan adulterers and Romanized tax collectors with truth like a sharp, double-edged sword. The towns surrounding the Sea of Galilee spoke powerfully of the region’s diversity. Tiberius (on the western shore) was the crown jewel of Herod Antipas’ governorship, a strictly Jewish city where the Rabbinical movement gained significant ground after the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. Across the sea, on the eastern shore, lay the Decapolis cities–ten cities that through their Corinthians columns, hippodromes, basaltic amphitheaters (below) and pagan shrines testified to the lordship of Caesar.
Naturally, the Decapolis cities were rarely visited by observant Jews, Jews who were interested in maintaining their piety and believed pagan Gentiles and Hellenized Jews were lost causes. Which, of course, made them perfect contexts for the pioneer of our faith to make manifest His love, a love transcending borders and pointing light into pagan places:
Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me. (Luke 8:26-28).
Jesus walks into a Gentile graveyard, confronts an unclean, demon possessed man as pigs graze all around. In what is perhaps the most unclean place imaginable–a non-Kosher wonderland swirling around a set of awestruck disciples–Jesus unfurls grace like a banner of burning truth.
…For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Legion,’ for many demons had entered him. And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside…(Luke 8:29-32a).
I’m trying to think of parallels in our modern context that might convey the lengths Jesus is going to in order to reach out to an individual even his pagan neighbors considered unclean, weird, and way too far gone:
Mother Theresa dips a sparking white habit into the sewage gutters of Calcutta.
A group of college students decide to do something about the horror of Uganda.
A raped mother carries a child to term and loves her boy like the child of God he is.
And it isn’t just that Jesus met with outcasts. He goes to them, proclaiming the reality of the coming Kingdom in massive places like Gerash, hilltop cities that were meant to be testimonies to Caesar’s unrivaled rule and enduring kingdom. Sure, Caesar can command armies by shouting orders to able bodied generals. Big deal. Jesus can cast powers of darkness out of raging grave-dwellers by breathing orders into the midnight air. He is King. He is general. He is all:
Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned…The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him (Luke 8:32-33, 38-39).
Have there been places you’ve ended up, places you believed yourself to have finally lost God? Then God showed up, in the midst of your raving lunacy, broke your chains, opened your eyes, and sent the sin in your life sliding down the hill into the sea? Yes? Take a moment and thank the One who shows up in our Gerash’s and calls us His own. Then, follow the bit of advice Jesus gives to the former grave-dweller, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”
Do you sit is chains still today, cursing the darkness and writhing in agony? Look up. Dare to believe that a Kingdom has come and is coming, and the King, His eyes burn with a zealous love for you. He’s near even now, stretching out His hand…
And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for, ‘In him we live and move and have our being.’ (Acts 17:26-28).