The other day I spoke about ‘Evil’ at La Trobe. I anchored my wrestling with this big topic in Jesus’ encounter with the man possessed by a legion of demons (using Mark’s version).
For my money, it’s the puzzling little details of this encounter that yield the most insight when pressed. Things like the strange fact that Jesus permits the unclean spirits to destroy the herd of pigs (I’ve blogged about this before).
And as I read it this time, it was one of the details I hadn’t really noticed before brought me up short (vv. 14-15):
The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid.
Why are the locals afraid I wonder? What about this man’s redemption freaks them out?
Maybe this is too postmodern, but perhaps it has something to do with the fact this man’s redemption ‘rehumanises’ someone who’s been systematically marginalised and dehumanised — by the locals.
No doubt there were only a few individuals who had actually wrestled the man to the ground or handled the chains used to restrain him (vv 3-4). Yet weren’t they all complicit in the fact that this was very probably the closest thing to human contact the man had experienced in years?
And no doubt they probably had their reasons — compelling, thoroughly comprehensible reasons. Like: ‘That guy’s going to hurt someone unless we restrain him’. Or: ‘Can’t someone put a stop to that endless howling so I can get at least one good night’s sleep this week?’ Solid, respectable, self-preserving reasons.
But it all adds up. As ordinary and recognisable as it may seem. As much as it unfolds one sensible, insignificant step after another. The outcome is … well, evil. As evil (in its way) as the legion of demons who’d got their hooks into the man.
Which means that if Jesus is in the business of defeating evil — and redeeming human life — then maybe it makes sense for those who’ve become complicit in it to be afraid…