I was asked an intriguing question this week, one I didn’t have a ready answer for, unusual for me. I am accustomed to knowing myself so well, to knowing my surroundings, feeling sure in the situations I allow myself to be in. Yet this question threw me, for a number of reasons. “What biblical character do you identify with during this season of struggling and difficulty?” My pastor in his wisdom was pointing me to the good book, in a way challenging me to dig deeper and find solace and comfort in the stories of old. He is sneaky like that. I can admit that I had not considered such an audacious and obvious route. Bridging the gap between those stories and my life is often difficult, I forget all the hardship and focus on the outcomes, the redemption, the transformation. I see the grace but minimize the ask. So which story is meaningful to me in these days of triggering news and flashbacks that are exhausting my ability to stay present?
Mark 5 tells this story: They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes.[a] 2 When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him.3 This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. 4 For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him.7 He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” 8 For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”
9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.
11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12 The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13 He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.
14 Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15 When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. 17 Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.
18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis[b] how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.
As I read and reread this passage, I was sure that I was being led to the wrong one. How could I identify with a man, during this time of struggle with abuses by men? Demon filled? Is that how I see myself? Yet this bit of scripture came alive and wouldn’t leave me alone. It began to replace some of my musings into old memories, it surfaced as I puttered around the house, as I drove to the store, as I fell asleep. I realized several truths about this story, about the relationship between Jesus and this suffering man. Jesus saw him, in the depth of his pain, when he was not himself and when his words were not respectful or worshipful or filled with faith. Jesus saw him. Jesus knew the man was separate from the ugliness that was within him, that he was more than the life he was living out. There is no point in the story where the man pleads his case, tells Jesus he is worthy of the transformation to come, that he begs for his own redemption. Jesus already knows him.
I realized I am more than the memories that haunt me, I am filled with the demons of others horrible behavior, their sickness is not me. This is a profound realization, that I am not what has happened to me. Allowing the demons to be called up and out, as they are coming through these flashbacks, requires some trust that Jesus will stay with me to cast them out, to rid me of their power. Reading that the man who was chained and bound because of the demons, when he trusted Jesus to exorcise him of this evil, not destroy him but restore him, such that all around were amazed when they saw him dressed and in his right mind, I want that. I want to be reclaimed by the true power of the One who sees who I am and who I am meant to be. I no longer want to cry out at night and cut myself with fear and sharp stones.
The journey with this man culminates when he begs to walk alongside Jesus and he is told to go out on his own, to tell his story. Such empowerment. He no longer needs the safety, to be rescued by his Savior. He can stand in his faith and trust that his words matter to the lives of those who need his voice. Yes, I can see that this story is the one I was meant to find, that this bit of scripture is coming alive as I struggle to find my way during these dark times. I see my Jesus is asking me to trust him with my demons, who will not be set free into the world but contained and destroyed, never to hurt others again. I am walking with this man who trusted Jesus so many years ago, who found his life again after horrific pain. He found light, he found grace.
Friends, I wonder what would happen if you asked the question of yourself, what biblical character do you most identify with these days? I found hope and a pathway out of fear. I pray you will do the same.