Jesus may call us to a mission greater than our understanding; it is not up to us to understand but to obey. God ultimately wants us to fulfill the great commission, but He may call us to work towards it in a way that is not the way we think is best. We must trust God’s understanding of what is best over ours, even if it does not make sense to us. If we are only following God when it makes sense, that isn’t faith. In Mark 5:14-20, Mark shares about a previously demon possessed man and how he took up Jesus’s call even when he wanted to be with Jesus instead of proclaiming Jesus.
In this article, I will share my analysis of this section of scripture to help us better find comfort when we may be confused about where God is leading us. You will learn why we must choose God’s plan for us over our own by unpacking the text, co-text, and context.
Analyzing Mark 5:14-20
In this text, we see how a few different characters respond to a miracle Jesus just performed. The characters are the herdsmen, the people of Decapolis, the previously demon possessed man, and Jesus. The herdsmen immediately fled when they saw what happened to tell what they saw. Which either shows a sign of fear or of excitement—it seems to be the former. The people of Decapolis rush out to see what is happening with fear and beg Jesus to leave (Mark 4:17). This is an odd effect of a miracle compared to the rest of the miracle stories. This is likely due to the loss of their herd, which is understandable. However, most of the time, the people bombard Jesus and instead, these people ask him to leave immediately. This shows their fearfulness of who Jesus may be and are not in a place to hear from Him or, if not fearful, then just uncomfortable around Jews since this is Gentile territory, hence the pigs.
The previously demon possessed man begged that he could stay with Jesus and follow him. Once Jesus performed the miracle, he then complied with this request of the people for him to leave immediately (Mark 4:18). What is odd is He didn’t grant the request of the previously demon possessed man. Jesus normally calls people to himself throughout the Gospels, but here He tells him to go and tell his friends about what Jesus had done for him (Mark 4:19). This is because Jesus knows they are not ready to hear from Him, but they are ready to hear from someone from their territory and ethnicity. We know that they were ready to hear from this man because in Mark 4:20 we see that he immediately followed Jesus’ command and that, “everyone marveled.” This isn’t necessarily full faith in Christ however they are recognizing the authority and power of Jesus which paves the way Jesus’s later return to the region.
This shows the importance of recognizing the influence we have on those in our lives. God has intentionally placed us around non-believers so that we could tell them about the hope we have in Jesus (1 Peter 3:15). Then also that we must follow the commands of God even when we don’t understand why. God doesn’t always give us the whole picture. God usually just gives us what we need one step at a time. It’s up to us to trust him for each next step and for the clarity we need, not the clarity we want. At some point, and probably many points in our faith walk, we will come to a point where following God’s call doesn’t seem to make peace in our understanding. Of course, we must confirm that call against scripture to make sure it isn’t a false call, but find peace if it is from God, He will work it for good.
Analyzing the Text Before and After This Section
When looking at the co-text right before this passage, we learn they went a far distance across the sea to get to the country of Gerasenes (Mark 5:1). We also learn how the miracle happened and are introduced to a new character named Legion—the group of demons living in the man (Mark 5:9). We see the character of God play out in this aspect of the story that He is willing to leave the ninety-nine for the one being the demon possessed man and in this way He is willing to play the long game if that means people are more likely to accept Him (Matthew 18:12–14).
The miracle itself happens in a weird way. Jesus is not in a hurry to cast out the demons, but rather He seems to give the demons the way out they prefer. A key piece of this section is Legion’s understanding and response to Jesus’s presence. He fell before Jesus in a posture of obedience and submission (Mark 5:6). He seems to be the only one in the region that has the right response to Jesus’s presence, and he is demon possessed at the moment. This teaches the importance of not just knowing who Jesus is but choosing to follow him and love him—even the demons know who He is and shudder (James 2:19). Additionally, being a follower means being willing to adjust our life to His will. The demons know everything there is to know about God, but don’t adjust their life to Him. That is where the difference lies.
When looking at Mark 7:31-37, we see Jesus’s return to this region is much better received now that the man who was previously possessed has helped pave the way. During this time, we see Jesus heal a man who is deaf and has a speech impediment. Who continues to spread the news about Jesus out of is gratitude. The people were “astonished beyond measure” still not quite bowing their lives to him, but you can tell God is at work in these people.
The Context of the Region of Gerasenes
By examining the context of this miracle and particularly the region of Gerasenes, we can better understand why Jesus responded as He did. This region is primarily Gentiles and non-practicing Jews would not have been welcoming to a Jewish Rabbi and His disciples. The disciples would have also been nervous about going to this region, but followed Jesus even without understanding the purpose of the risk.
This region would also be used to the presence of demons due to their pagan worship. They would not have the same negative notion as the Jews did about the unclean aspect. That is just a somewhat neutral term. All this to say is demons and spirits were normalized in this region. So, this would not be out of the norm to see a demon possessed man, but what was out of the norm was someone who has authority over the demons. This fact is something they didn’t know how to deal with and, like many people, when they aren’t familiar with something, they try to get rid of it. In the Church today, we should be the most accepting and most inclusive people. However, this is not always the case. Like the pagan people, we tend to distance ourselves from what isn’t familiar. Remember, God’s grace is for anyone and we treat others that way.
Being a true follower of God means walking by faith, not by what we understand. We must choose to be like the man who was possessed and respond yes to God’s call, even when we aren’t familiar with the task at hand. It isn’t up to us to provide the means for God’s promptings; it is up to us to provide the obedience.
This text shows us how two characters respond differently to unfamiliar good news. The people of Decapolis chose to push Jesus away. The man that was previously possessed could not help but praise Jesus and honor His call. As we understand what Jesus has done for us, we should praise Him and honor His call, even if we do not understand that call. Ultimately, we must choose God’s best way to advance His Kingdom over our good way to advance His Kingdom, because His way is always best.