The disciples grew up wondering what was on the other side. Of course they had never been there. No good Jewish boy willingly crossed over to the Decapolis, to the area of the pagans. And the land of the Geresanes — it was to be avoided at all costs. This was the area where the pigs were raised for sacrifices to the pagan gods and it was a Roman army outpost . No self-respecting Jew would set foot in that village.
So when Jesus set out in the boat with the boys you can imagine the look on their faces as they headed south-east. Peter asks, “Jesus, where are we going?” Jesus responds, “You’ll know soon enough.” Peter follows up, “But Jesus, it looks like we’re headed to the Decapolis, are you sure this is a good idea. What will people say?” Jesus smiled.
As they pulled up to shore they saw a man, or what looked like a man, come running down the hill from an area filled with burial caves. Some of the younger disciples started backing up into the boat. Jesus walked toward the man.
The man was naked, bloody, crazy. He had the remnants of chains around his ankles and wrists, and as he approached Jesus he fell on his knees and screamed “What do you want with me, Yeshua, son of God Most High? Please don’t torture me…” But by that time Jesus had already started saying “Unclean spirit, come out of this man!”
“What’s your name”, Jesus asked. “Legion, there are many of us” the spirit responded. “Please don’t send us away from here, instead send us into the herd of pigs on the hillside” the spirit begged. Jesus agreed.
As the spirits entered the herd of pigs, they began a stampede towards the sea. The swineherds, well they freaked out. They ran into the village, scared by what they had seen, and terrified about the punishment for losing 2,000 pigs. They told the story of what had happened, and the villagers came out to see for themselves.
As they approached Jesus and the disciples, they saw the man who had been possessed, the man who could not be bound, the man who had roamed the hills outside the village howling and scaring the children. He was there in front of them, sitting, clothed, and in his right mind. And rather than being filled with excitement for the man, they were filled with fear. They couldn’t explain what had happened and they were fearful of the Roman officials. And in a moment of panic they asked Jesus to take the disciples and leave the area.
As Jesus was getting in the boat, the man begged Jesus to come with him. But Jesus refused. “Go home. Go to your family, return to your community, and tell them how much Adonai in his mercy has done for you.” As Jesus got into the boat, the disciples must have looked at him with a bit of confusion. It wasn’t unusual for Jesus to turn away would-be followers, but normally he told them after healing them to tell no one. This time Jesus sent the man with a message.
The man listened. He went home and began spreading the message of how Jesus had shown him mercy, not just in his village, but throughout the ten towns of the Decaplolis. And as he shared his story, everyone was amazed.
And that’s all we know about the naked, bloody guy. He isn’t mentioned again in Scripture outside of this account and he can’t be found in the history books. But we do know that the story of Jesus and his works spread throughout the Decapolis, and many trusted in him. We also know from church tradition that men from this area served on the early church councils that helped form the early Christian creeds and determine the canon of Scripture. Perhaps it was because of the testimony of this one man. A man set free. A man who listened to Jesus command to go and tell others of the mercy he had received.
Why did Jesus send this man out with a message instead of telling him to keep quiet as he had in the past?
Do you have a story of God’s mercy setting you free that you can share?