Mark 5:1 – 6:6

1 They came to the far side of the lake1 at the land of the Gerasenes. 2 As Jesus left the boat he was accosted at once by a man out of the tombs who was possessed by an impure spirit;2 3 he dwelt in the tombs. Not even with chains could anyone restrain him; 4 he had often been bound with fetters and chains but he had wrenched apart his chains and smashed his fetters, and no one could overpower him3 5 All night and all day long in the tombs and on the hills he would cry out and pelt himself with stones. 6 When he saw Jesus he ran up from a distance and kneeled down before him, 7 then shieked out, “What is there between us, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? For God’s sake, don’t torture me!”4 8 Jesus first issued a peremptory order, “Leave the fellow, impure spirit!” 9 then proceeded to question the man: “What’s your name?” to which he replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”5 10 And there was lots of begging that he not send them outside of their territory.6 11 Close by the hill7 there was a large herd of pigs browsing. 12 Then the spirits begged him, “Dispatch us to the pigs and let us enter into them. 13 Upon his letting them do so, the impure spirits left the man and entered into the pigs. Then the herd stampeded over the cliff into the lake, about 2,000 pigs in all, and they drowned in the lake.8 14 Then the herdsmen ran off from them and reported it to the town and to the countryside, and people came to see what had happened. 15 When they came near Jesus they saw the man who had been possessed seated and newly-dressed and in his right mind-the very man that had had the “legion,”-and they were scared.9 16 And those who had seen it told them what had happened to the man who was possessed and about the pigs. 17 At that they started begging him to go away from their area. 18 As he entered the boat, the man who had been possessed kept begging him to be allowed to remain with him, 19 but Jesus would not permit him to do so; instead he told him, “Go home to your kinfolk and tell them what the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 But he went off and started proclaiming in the Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him, at which everyone shook his head in wonderment.10

21 When Jesus had crossed back over to the hither side, a great crowd gathered toward him, and he stayed near the lakeshore.1122 Then12 one of the officers of the Synagogue, whose name was Jairus,13 came, and when he saw him, he fell down before Jesus’ feet 23 and started begging him repeatedly,14 “My little girl is in her last throes! Come put your hands upon her so she can be saved and live!” 24 So Jesus went with him, and a great throng followed him; they were pressing him very closely.15

25 There was a woman who had suffered bleeding for twelve years; 26 she had been treated frequently by several doctors and had spent everything she had without improving but instead going from bad to worse16 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came in the throng and took hold of his robe from behind. (28 Her thinking was, “If only I can take hold of his robe, I’ll be made whole.”) 29 Right away her bleeding stopped and she could sense within that she was cured of her malady.17 30 Jesus too right away became aware that power had gone out of him; he turned around there in the throng and said, “Who took hold of my robe?” 31 His disciples said to him, “You can see this throng squeezing you and you can ask, “Who took hold of me?”18 32 Then he looked around to see the one who had done this. 33 The woman was afraid and trembling, fully cognizant of what had happened to her; she came and fell down before him19 and told him the whole truth. 34 Then he told her, “My daughter, your trust has made you whole; go in peace and be well from your affliction.”

35 Even as he was speaking, servants arrived from the synagogue-officer’s household to tell him, “Your daughter has died; why bother the rabbi?” 36 Jesus had overheard what was said and told the officer, “Don’t be afraid; just trust!”20And he wouldn’t let anyone follow along with him except Peter and James and John, James’ brother.21 38 They came to the officer’s house, and Jesus observed the clamor: people doing a lot of crying and wailing; 39 then he went in and said to them, “Why this clamor? Why cry out? The child has not died, she’s just sleeping.” 40 Then they started laughing at him.22 But he sent them all out and then took the child’s father and mother and the disciples with him and entered the room where they child lay. 41 He took the child’s hand and said to her, “Talitha Koum! (in English that means, ‘Little girl, I bid you arise.!)'”23 42 Right away the little girl arose and started walking about (she was 12 years old).2425 43 Then he repeatedly ordered that nobody should know of this,26 and he said she should be given something to eat. At this they were utterly beside themselves.

6:1 And he left that place and came into his home town,27 accompanied by his disciples. 2 And when the Sabbath came he began teaching in the synagogue, 3 and many as they heard him were asking in astonishment, “Where does he get this? What is this wisdom granted to him and such wondrous acts taking place through his efforts? 3 Isn’t he Mary’s son, the brother of James and Joses and Judah and Simon? Aren’t his sister here before us?” In fact they were embarrassed by him.28 What Jesus told them was, “A prophet does not want for prestige unless its in his own home town and among his own kinfolk and in his own household.”29 5 He couldn’t perform any wondrous act there other than healing a few sick people by laying his hands upon them. He was amazed at their lack of trust.30

6 Then he circled through the villages roundabout, teaching all the time.31

Next Chapter

Mark 5 Notes

1 It has been argued that the east side of the Sea of Galilee is viewed by the evangelist as Gentile territory, the west side as Jewish territory, a notion that may or may not be valid. This area was called the “Decapolis,” because as there were ten Greek-speaking cities there. The pigs browsing with herdsmen overseeing them would seem to bespeak Gentile territory; nevertheless, the story of the demoniac named “Legion” has in itself nothing to do with ethnic distinctions.

2 The story of the Gerasene demoniac is surely one of the more memorable of the Marcan narratives. Dostoyevski took it for the symbolic frame of reference for his novel of the nihilist terrorists endeavoring to overthrow the social system of Czarist Russia, The Possessed, and indeed it is well suited for that. Within the larger Marcan context, however, the story echoes motifs already in play in earlier stories (e.g., demon recognizes Jesus’ identity and the challenge to the entire realm of the demonic; Jesus’ stern demand for silence, ignored here as previously; the binding of the strong man), but it concentrates into a single powerful image the key theme of the authority, the ἐξουσία, of the Son of Man, to forgive sins, to decide what is appropriate on the Sabbath, to exercise here and now the power of God vested in him as the eschatological agent of God, all of which can be readily summarized in a few key phrases: raising the dead, exercising judgment, making people whole (salvation), bringing the Reign of God into reality. The stories of Chapter 5 all display this role of Jesus as Son of Man at work. In the first two stories of the Controversy Sequence (2:1-12, 13-17) a relationship between healing and forgiveness of sins had been clearly enunciated: Jesus heals the paralytic with an announcement that his sins are forgiven; he tells the scribes who find fault with the company he keeps that he has come to issue an invitation to sinners rather than to righteous people, inasmuch as it is the sick who need a physician rather than those who are well. The demoniac named “Legion” is never referred to as “a sinner,” although it is clear that he is a lost human being who is beyond the capacity of his society to help or restrain. He is alienated from his selfhood, which is precisely what it means to say that he is “possessed by an impure spirit.” In this case the narrative alternates between describing the demonic power in control of the man as one or many (Jesus addresses the singular “impure spirit” in bidding him leave the man, but the name (of the man? of the demonic power?) is “Legion, for we are many.” And it is a plurality that beg Jesus to send them into the pigs. Jesus comes to make human beings whole, meaning that he must exorcise their demons or their sickness or their ignorance of God’s will; all these are aspects of restoring to human beings the selfhood that has somehow been stolen from them when they became alienated. It is a matter of redemption–of “buying back” or “restoring self-rule” to human beings who have become enslaved to forces that rob them of their selfhood, of health, of life in any meaningful sense. In a sense, all of Jesus’ healings and exorcisms are instances of raising out of death. So here Jesus restores the Gerasene demoniac to himself and bids him return to his family and report “what God has done for you.” Both literally and figuratively Jesus takes the demoniac “out of the tombs.”
I have long pondered what seem to me great similarities between Mark’s narrative of the healing of the Gerasene demoniac and Paul’s rhetorical “autobiographical” account in Romans 7 of the process of alienation whereby a human being loses control over his own behavior and becomes subject to the enslaving power of sin. It seems to me that Mark and Paul employ quite different literary forms in order to proclaim the same gospel message: that Jesus comes to vanquish the forces that have seized illegitimate control over human beings and that keep them engaged in self-destructive and mutually-destructive behavior in the service of evil, sin, and death; in sum, Jesus has come to raise human existence out of the tombs into life. I have explored briefly the analgous features of these two passages in a separate discussion, “Marcan and Pauline Accounts of Alienation.”

3 This is the “strong man” (ἰσχυρός) of the “riddle-talk” of 3:27 whose house is broken into and whose goods are plundered by the “stronger man” (ἰσχυρότερος) heralded by the Baptist at 1:7.

4 The narrative’s superficially confused and confusing subject-changes neatly portray the ambivalence of the demoniac’s selfhood: surely it is his own recognition of Jesus, even through the demonic power within him, that has brought him to his knees before Jesus; yet at the same time the demonic power speaks through his lips in terror and dread of the challenge of Jesus coming from another realm. Is it the man himself addressing the demon or the demonic power addressing Jesus that cries out–in the name of God–“Don’t torture me!”

5 “My name is Legion, for we are many”: again the language bespeaks the powerful alienation of the demoniac, a man who knows too well that he is not whole, so that the name he bears is the name of a whole Roman military company (a Latin loan-word) that besieges his own spirit and would speak through his lips; here the first-person singular possessive “my” yields to the first-person plural nominative “we.”

6 The Greek sentence is so ambiguous that one must wonder whether the ambiguity is a matter of imprecise expression or of deliberate imprecision. It could be construed in several different ways, although some are less probable than others; it could be read as, “He kept begging many times” (third-singular verb, pollå understood as an adverbial accusative), or as, “They kept begging him many times not to send them out of the territory” (since a neuter-plural subject may take a singular verb and since the neuter plural au1ta (AUTA) is the object of the verb in the subordinate clause, we may legitimately understand it also as the subject of the main verb παρεκάλει, or we could even read the πολλὰ as a nominative substantive and subject of παρεκάλει, which would yield, “And many (of the demons) kept begging him not to send them outside of the territory.” Moreover the phrasing of “send him out of the territory” is somewhat strange; what territory is meant? the countryside outside of Gerasa? Gerasa itself? The Decapolis? Or could the χώρα, the “territory” be the person of the demoniac himself, the “area” occupied by the host of demons?

7 The word o1rov (OROS) is usually translated “mountain,” but it may be used of quite varied heights. The narrative requires us to envision the meeting of the demoniac with Jesus at a spot low enough for the boat from which Jesus has just disembarked to come to shore; yet there is a hillside immediately adjacent where the pigs are browsing and the hillside must break off over the lake in a cliff (κρῆμνος) over which the pigs dash to plunge to their death in the lake’s waters in verse 13.

8 However grotesque this scene may appear, it is certainly awesome; the demonic force that has ravaged the demoniac’s existence for so long takes possession of the pigs, which are immediately oercome by convulsions making them stampede over the edge of the cliff to plunge into the lake’s waters below and drown. It hardly needs saying that there is no way to rationalize this narrative: it does not concern itself with even a violent form of schizophrenia, but rather with a power that is awesomely demonic and vitally linked to the core of evil at work in the world.

9 The herdsmen have fled the scene in terror at the awesome spectacle and gone to town to report it to others; upon returning they see something not simply terrifying but utterly astounding: this is a person transformed into a new self–or back into his original self as he may have been before he was beset by the demons. He is newly-dressed and “in his right mind” (Greek σωφρονοῦντα); as in several previous healing narratives (e.g., paralytic, leper, man with the withered hand) the miracle here too is the restoration of “wholeness” to a human creature who was truly “lost” (ἀπολωλώς), the participle, though not used in any of these narratives, is surely appropriate); this is close to the core of the way “salvation” σωτηρία is understood in Mark’s gospel.

10 This is a vivid and impressive portrayal of the varied reactions of the local people and of the former demoniac to what has happened. Although nothing has been said of the loss of the herd of pigs, this bona fide “redemption” of the “man from the tombs” is greeted by the local people with a sense of terror rather than of joy: they want this uncanny wielder of power “out of their territory,” and so they ask him to leave. The former demoniac, like the cleansed leper of 1:40-45, is told to return to his family (leper to the priest) and reclaim an ordinary existence, but when he cannot go with Jesus back across the lake, he makes his way throughout the Decapolis proclaiming the salvation wrought in him by Jesus. And to that, as on the other side of the lake, the reaction is wonderment: they all marvelled” (πάντες ἑθαύμαζον).

11 This is, of course, no more than a transitional link between the story of the Gerasene demoniac on the far shore of the lake to the interlaced stories that follow with two more striking stories of the salvation wrought by Jesus: the raising from death of the daughter of a synagogue officer and the healing of a persistent bloody discharge in a woman who does not even address Jesus but is healed when she touches his garment.

12 Mark 5:22-43 constitute a second “Marcan Triptych” (see”Mark 2:1-12 as a Marcan Triptych.”) like 2:1-12 and 3:20-35. As in 3:20-35 the inner narrative does not really interrupt the flow of the temporal sequence, but it does give occasion to at least two items of narrative significance: (a) of course it retards the arrival of Jesus at the household of the synagogue-officer until “it is too late to do any good”–and thereby intensifies the magnitude of his miraculous intervention for her; (b) at the same time it exposes a callow and imperceptive attitude on the part of Jesus’ disciples; this is another link in a chain of instances of insensitivity and “blindness” on the part of these persons supposedly gifted with an understanding of the hidden truth of God’s reign.

13 What is remarkable in this Marcan narrative is the fact that a principal in a healing story is actually named, even if we are told very little at all about him; the evangelist, of course, is careful to focus essentially on what he does think it important for the reader/listener to know.

14 Noteworthy perhaps, even if it is slightly different phrasing, is that this synagogue-officer, for all that he is on a far higher social level than the demoniac of the previous account, approaches Jesus in the very same gesture of helpless pleading at the feet of the master.

15 “… pressing him very closely”: this is a recurrent motif in Mark’s gospel and has been noted before: the throng gathers so tightly about him that it threatens to “crush” him (συνθλίβω). In part this serves to explain how the woman with the discharge is able to reach Jesus unnoticed prior to her grabbing an edge of his robe; yet as always there is here too a hint of danger to Jesus in this pressure from the crowd; the local people of Gerasa found him terrifying; these Galileans are fascinated, but the evangelist may well be preparing us for the crowd in Jerusalem that welcomes him enthusiastically in chapter 11 and clamors for his crucifixion in chapter 14.

16 What links this event with those that precede and follow it is the magnitude of the hopelessness of the human creature to whom Jesus brings the gift of wholeness. Whether or not these incidents did in fact follow each other in the temporal sequence in which the evangelist reports them, he skilfully underscores in each instance the hopelessness and helplessness of earlier efforts over a long time to cope with the affliction in question: measures to restrain or confine the demoniac, years of futile treatment by physicians, death of a child so certain that persistent appeal to Jesus for help is not only absurd but risible. The narrative sequence of chapter 5 has unquestionably raised by several levels the measure of human helplessness to which Jesus responds.

17The evangelist underscores this woman’s despair. One might suppose it crude that healing power should pass from a Jesus who does even see the woman grasping his robe. In Luke (8:46) Jesus even comments on his feeling the power leave him; Matthew (Mt 9:22) is more subtle: Jesus feels his robe grabbed, turns around and recognizes the woman and addresses her–and only then is she healed). Although in Mark’s narrative Jesus does finally look upon the woman and address her kindly, still, her healing precedes this visual and verbal confrontation between the two. The narrative sequence underscores the woman’s confidence, even in her despair, that Jesus’ power to make her whole is real and sure, if only she can bring herself within its sphere. That is why Jesus can tell her in verse 34 that it is her trust that has healed her–her assurance that God’s power to make persons whole resides within Jesus.

18 See note 12 (b) above on what this reveals (again) about the disciples.

19 Cf. above note 14: first the demoniac, then the synagogue-officer, now the woman-they all fall down before him in earnest entreaty.

20 These two verses, immediately following as they do Jesus’ words to the woman, “Your trust has made you whole,” indicate the nature of the commitment for which Jesus calls: not acknowledgement of some fundamental theological truth(s) but trust in the power of God resident within Jesus, power that saves and redeems what is helpless and hopeless and dead. It has been said that Mark’s gospel is very close to Paul’s; certainly what is proclaimed in these stories seems very close to what Paul writes in Rom 4:17ff about the faith/trust exhibited by Abraham in the Genesis stories, trust in the God who redeems as well as creates, who summons the dead to life and things that are not as things that are.

21 These three, and sometimes also Peter’s brother Andrew, constitute an inner circle accompanying Jesus on several important occasions apart from the rest of his disciples and the larger throng of his followers (οἱ περὶ αὐτὸν σὺν τοῖς δώδεκα), 4:10).

22 Again what is stressed by the storyteller is the “realistic” discernment of the helplessness of the situation, this in the face of Jesus’ insistence that the child is in a “dormant state” rather than beyond the boundaries of life.

23 It is not disputed that Mark is writing for an audience that cannot be expected to understand Aramaic or Hebrew; characteristically whenever he cites a non-Greek phrase in his narrative, he immediately provides a Greek equivalent.

24 The immediate reaction is here indicated, as commonly by the Marcan adverb εὐθύς, which seems to point to the fait accompli as the distinctive mark of Jesus’ as agent of God’s reign. The girl’s age is added, either as another detail along with her father’s name, a detail generally so rare in Marcan accounts, or perhaps also to intensify the vividness of the scene: the girl is not listless or slow, is but energetic as one would expect of a twelve-year old. We are reminded of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law who, at Jesus’ touch, rose up from her sickbed and started serving meals to Jesus and those with him in 1:31.

25 They were utterly beside themselves”: While earlier miraculous acts by Jesus have regularly evoked a reaction of amazement, as any reader/listener must surely notice, the phrasing here rises to a new level of magnitude: The Greek, if translated quite literally, says something like, “they were in ecstasy with great ecstasy.” ῎Εκστασις does mean “being beside one’s self” or being out of one’s mind, being utterly shocked; it may also refer to a religious experience of mystical trance, but here the sense is quite clearly that of profound shock in that what has happened is utterly outside of intelligible or conceivable human experience.

26 Once again, the Marcan “Messianic secret”: repeatedly Jesus exhorts or even commands those who have directly experienced his saving power to remain silent about what they have experience; more often than not, they do just the opposite.

27It seems curious that the town, presumably Nazareth, is not mentioned here, and in fact is mentioned in Mark only once, at 1:9. Perhaps the traditional saying cited in 6:4 with its keyword πατρίς accounts for the town being named in verse 1 simply as τὴν πατρίδα αὐτοῦ. At any rate, this scene of rejection within Mark’s larger narrative was prepared for in 3:21, 31-32, where Jesus’ mother and brothers have come for him to Capernaum, evidently to take him home because they are embarrassed by his behavior which seems to them that of a madman.

28Literally “in him they ran into a stumbling block” (ἐσκανδαλίζοντο).

29There appears to be a climactic sequence here: the townmen reject him, his kinfolk reject him, and indeed, his own household rejects him.

30As in earlier instances of healing and exorcism trust in Jesus’ power is that to which he attributed the healing, so here it is the absence of trust that is faulted for his inability to perform miracles in his home town. It may be that Mark felt the rejection of Jesus by his own home-town folk was emblematic of the rejection of him by Jews generally, but if that is what he thought, it never finds any overt explicit expression.

31 This is a transitional sentence, closing off one narrative sequence before a new one begins with 6:7.