Growing up, I remember the Sunday School lessons of Jesus and the Demoniac of the Geresenes spoken of in Mark 5. It's a harrowing picture of what unchecked evil is capable of within human society: a man - naked, cast-out, living in powerful chaos, completely self-destructed (crying out and gashing himself), and, seemingly, fully at the mercy of embodied evil. Looking back, it's still a little strange that we seemed to have very few qualms about presenting what is clearly an R-rated scene, straight out of a horror film, in children's Sunday School. But, even then, I found it completely acceptable - probably, in part, because anything presented on Flannelgraph just has a lighthearted sense to it. (In fact, I say, all awful stories or bad news should be presented on flannelgraph.
"the MRI results came back positive" or "You're adopted" just seem easier to bear when you get to have cake with the news.)
However, as I'm sure those who have come into contact with demon possession will attest, this experience of coming face-to-face with powerful, personal evil was anything but light-hearted.
It's here, though, that Mark presents in interesting spin on the account. As Jesus approached the demoniac, he "[...] ran up and bowed down before him; and shouting with a loud voice, he said, 'What business do we have with each other, Jesus, son of the Most High God? I implore you, by God, do not torment me!" (Mark 5:6b-7, NASB). First, It's fascinating that a demon would approach Jesus, running to him even, just to say "don't hurt me." Wouldn't he be running the other way if he knew Jesus was a genuine threat? (Thus, one is forced to ask the question - was it the demon who urged the man toward Jesus, or was it the man in a last-ditch effort of clarity who willed himself, despite the demon, to the only one who he knew could eliminate the evil possessing him?)
Second, however, is Mark's use of the word we translate "bowed down" in the account. While we see several people throughout Mark, touching Jesus or casting themselves at his feet, this is only 1 of 2 times that we find the Greek "proskuneo," which we often translate as "bow down," especially as an act of worship, in Mark. The other time, oddly enough, is when the Roman cohort gathers in Pilate's palace to mock-worship Jesus immediately before his crucifixion.
In fact, Mark seems to be full of these linguistic and event pairings. In Mark 1, when Jesus comes up from the baptism, the heavens are opened, or "torn apart" in the Greek, as the Spirit descends. Likewise, at His crucifixion, the veil of the temple is "torn" into two - same root word. In both Mark 5 and Mark 7, a synagogue official and SyroPhonecian woman, respectively, fall down "at the feet" of Jesus, both seeking healing for a daughter. Further, we have 2 accounts of feeding large multitudes, 5,000 (Mark 6) and 4,000 (Mark 8), as well as a 2-part healing of a blind man in Mark 8.
So what is the purpose of these couplets? What does Mark want us to see in these stories? And, specifically, in juxtaposing the Geresene demoniac and the Roman cohort, both "falling down" in worship, what might God be saying to us about the nature of true worship?
For more discussion, be watching for November's newsletter. Until then, may we be faithfully seeking after Christ in true, selfless worship.
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