The description of a furious man in a lonely and tenebrous place, after an unexpected and frightening lake storm, suggests a somber scene taken out of a terror movie. I do not really think that many of us have had these kinds of encounters with people in such states of mental alienation, with an inner violence taken to such extremes. Nevertheless, experiencing physical violence nowadays is so frequent that, for many, it has become daily and domestic.
In reading this passage I went back to those instants in my life where my anger has somehow taken over me and to the feelings of fear and shame that my lack of control provoked. I replayed in my mind the image of those eyes full of anger of our first landlord who raced after his wife wanting to beat her up, while me and my wife were trying to step into him and prevent a tragedy. I thought about some men that I knew that possessed by a spirit of violence have destroyed so many lives around them. Just recently we were saddened on a Sunday morning with the shocking story of a Venezuelan Boxing Champion who had killed his wife after having systematically abused physically of her for a long time. A man who had not been put to jail for committing such acts and who reminded me of the deterioration and incompetence of our justice system and the preeminent of masculine violence in the realm of the family. This man, like the one who came out of the road in Gerasa to meet Jesus, always found a way to slip out of justice and unchaining himself would repeat his violent outbursts.
In the Biblical story those chains describe the fear that the people of that region had of the extremely violent outbreaks of this man and the destructive consequences that they provoked in other people and on himself. That homeless, dehumanized and marginalized individual, found his shelter in dark and tenebrous places, where he was chained and separated from the rest of the people, but remained somehow visible to all, such that he would serve as a visible symbol of evil to them. In spite of that, the chains were not strong enough to restraint him and they would break loose with any new violent seizure.
It looks like that all cultures seem to have these kind of monster-like men who cause tragedies and disaster when they get out of control. To me that man possessed by demons, who comes out of the cemetery screaming and hitting whatever comes into his way, represents the degradation of that pagan culture and its steady and passive submission to the forces of violence, immorality and evil. To a certain respect, our young Venezuelan Boxing champ, with the picture of the country’s president tattooed in his chest, represents a society brought into rubbles by politicians, unable to overcome despair, taken by divisions and fights, immersed in a cycle of violence that is expressed in so many different ways and in different spaces, specially within the inner family.
If it that region, and in particular that road, was so frightening , I ask myself: Why does Jesus go that way? Is he just looking for some thrill or to meet evil to satisfy his curiosity or to demonstrate his spiritual powers like some past and present exorcists? Or perhaps his confrontation with that man brings a critique or even judgment to that culture and its world vision? Or maybe it is simply his compassion what drives him, his desire to make things right without paying attention that its consequences are politically correct?
With those questions in mind we can read the passage in so many differing ways. We can talk about an “all powerful” Jesus that is able to quiet storms and control a demon possessed man who falling in his knees proclaims him as the “Son of the Most Highest”. We can even say that there was a “spiritual battle” that ends with the man’s whole healing in mind, body and spirit. Another reading, one that is very appealing to me personally, reveals a missional Jesus that goes beyond the limits of purity/impurity to enter a Greek pagan region, full of idolatry, pagan deities and immorality to deal with the evil spirits that have come to inhabit that unfortunate man. Others have tried to see in the text a Jesus that treats mental disease in a very patient and therapeutic way through his open dialog with the man and his tormenter spirits. Using more elaborated symbolisms allows seeing political-religious undertones in the story. With the man representing occupied territories by Roman legions and Jesus as the liberator that comes to establish the Kingdom of God on earth. In any case, no matter the interpretation framework that one adopts we can never deny that the main interest of Jesus lies in the healing of the man from that outrageous condition at the social, moral, mental, physical and spiritual levels.
Very recently, my wife had a very unlikely encounter with a lady in the island of Grenada, where we are now residing, that out of the blue started to talk to her about a pain that she had in her liver. “Why don’t you go to the doctor?” Asked my wife, and the woman said that she had done so already. But, then she added, “My husband was present to prevent that I would tell the doctor about how he has hit me repeatedly in that area of my body.”
As we can see, there is no need to be possessed by a “legion” of spirits to need a caring Jesus that steps out of his way to help us men put aside our inner violence which is the result of not being able to live out masculinity to the levels that the patriarchal society demands. As men, we feel things getting out of control but we lack the psychological means to express our frustrations and externalize our pain. The pressure cooker that we are starts getting full of hot vapor until it explodes and we break loose in verbal or physical violence, we end up causing damage to those that are more vulnerable around us, with long term consequences that we cannot predict.
To a great extent, at least in Latin America, it has been the women movements the ones that have done more to eradicate, prevent and engage with domestic violence. Rarely we see men talking about this subject in public spaces. Nevertheless, masculine violence is a men’s problem that we, as men, must confront, no matter how many storms come on our way. As Jesus did, we need to change directions and go into those dark alleys where there are men in chain and deal with them. We cannot keep using evasive answers such as that given by the president in the sad case of the box champ: “in face of tragedy, the show must go on.” What a simplistic response to such extended and difficult problem in our society. We need to take risks to confront masculine violence and help in the deliverance of those men trapped by their inner dragons and by legions of tormenter spirits. But we need to learn from a Jesus that goes beyond limits to unchartered territory in order to deal with a man and somehow manage to denounce the injustice, immorality and idolatry of that culture.