Then they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes. And when He had come out of the boat, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him not even with chains, because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones.
When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him. And he cried out with a loud voice and said, “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me.”
For He said to him, “Come out of the man, unclean spirit!” Then He asked him, “What is your name?”
- Gospel of St. Mark 5:1-9
The Cutter: Naked, Alone, and Near Death
We are given an account of a man who is thought to be mad. The Scriptures describe him as a man with “an unclean spirit” and that he was amongst the tombs, crying out, and cutting himself. Rev. Richard Bledsoe, a Presbyterian Minister from Boulder, Colorado, takes this account of Jesus to speak to the representative nature of our sin. “All of life is representative, we all represent other people. A father represents his family, a king represents his Kingdom, we even call one of our branches of government, ‘The House of Representatives.’ All of life is representative.”
Bledsoe posits that this man has become representative of his village. “He has taken everything that is dark and horrible about that village, and it has all been placed on him. The reason he is naked is because everyone since the fall is naked and ashamed, and all of our attempts to clothe ourselves are nothing but fig leaves. We live with nakedness and shame, and the Gadarene madman has taken the nakedness and the shame from the entire community upon himself. Jesus was crucified naked, he didn’t have a nice robe around his private parts, he was naked. Because he bore the shame of the whole world. We are told he lives among the tombs. Life isn’t just symbolic or literal, it is both at once. He is literally living amongst the tombs, but the actual meaning of it is, that he is already dead. He has suffered death for everyone else in the community.”
“Finally we are told that he cut himself with stones. Today, cutting is a big deal in the adolescent world. Why do we cut? The Greek word is autolapsis – what that translates to is that he, “stones himself.” He is actually executing himself. The whole of the pagan world was taken up with ritual executions. You throw someone off a cliff, you would stone them, etc. This man ritually executes himself, day and night he cuts himself with stones. That is what cutting is: a ritual form of self-execution, at least at some level.”
Cutting in our Culture
#DONE! is a micro film written by Rebecca Withey for Project Semicolon, a faith-based movement dedicated to presenting hope and love to those who struggle with depression, self-injury, and suicide. In the microfilm, Withey reintroduces this gospel narrative in a modern context.
Watch it here:
Jesus offers a Solution to “Cutting”
Bledsoe describes our connection to self-harm as a struggle against change. “Our lives may be miserable and wretched, but at least it’s my life and I am familiar with it. I really don’t want anything to change. Even if it is a thousand demons inside of us.”
“Jesus turns to the man, this man is a thing to the community – he is an object, not a person. He has been entirely depersonalized. This may be the first personal act that has happened in this man’s life in 25 years. Jesus turns to the man and says, ‘What is your name?’
“You can imagine the piercing eyes of Jesus looking in. The man answers, ‘My name is legion for we are many’ and then he begs Jesus, ‘Don’t send them out of the country.’ To the man, at least they are my demons, they are my companions, however horrible they are, they are my friends. He is actually begging Jesus to not change anything.”
“But Jesus, in his mercy, ignores the request, Jesus mercifully doesn’t answer a lot of our prayers, because they are not good prayers.”
A thousand demons hurt, cutting hurts, but with them – things stay can the same. Jesus comes and changes everything, but he starts with changing you. Cutting says, “I am not important.” Jesus asks, “What is your name?” Jesus, the King and creator of the universe, takes an interest in our identity. As Jesus looks into the face of the cutter, he sees his own image. Through cutting we make this image unrecognizable, yet Jesus comes down to us and is ready to remake us in His own image by giving us His own name.
What the Swine represent: 2,000 pigs and 2,000 people
“Jesus sends the demons into the pigs and the pigs will become the mirror image of the village. They represent the people. The pigs are driven mad by the presence of the demons, they rush at once off this cliff. They fall off and into the abyss as they have been sent back to hell.”
“It is only Jesus Christ who can not just displace a demon with another or manipulate them, but actually banish them with great authority. And this is what transpires at this point, they are drowned into the sea… Many now go back to the community and they tell them what happened and they are awestruck. They come out and they see the man. The next statement is the most astonishing.”
“They were afraid and they began to plead with him to depart from their region. They want Jesus to leave. Jesus has not just wrecked a portion of the economy, he has also wrecked the whole social structure of this community. The demon possessed man has been holding this community together by taking all of their demons on to him. He was the one who actually gave cohesion and stability to the community. What if he is gone, How on earth are we going to go on? The community cannot cohere without him. The whole community collapses and falls apart.”
“Finally, you see – this now demon-free man comes to Jesus, ‘Can I go with you?’
“But Jesus says no. He tells him to go back and to tell his story and that this is actually part of his reintegration into society.”
“The whole of the western world is very much in the position of this community. Jesus has annihilated the cohesion and stability and the ability to relate in the whole western world. The presence of Jesus has undone all of the ancient world’s ways of relating. It is the Gospel that undid this.”
“We are neurotic, isolated, alone, we do not know how to do marriage, how to have family life, or how to have community because of Jesus Christ.”
“Take two people and what holds them together? They gossip about a third person. Take the third person away, and they don’t know how to relate. That is a small picture of what has happened in the western world.”
Jesus has a plan for this generation of hurting and isolated people. His solution is a new identity based on his death and not on our situation. He asks, “What is your name?” and our story, our identity, begins anew in Him.