“Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned.” Luke 8:37
The country of the Gerasenes, the far side of the lake of Galilee: Jesus comes across the lake and he is confronted by this demon-possessed man. Jesus drives out the demons and Jesus is restored to peace. Then, says Saint Luke, the people asked Jesus “to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.”
What was it they feared? Saint Luke doesn’t say. If Twenty-First Century people had been there, what might have been frightening?
Perhaps encountering the supernatural would frighten them, perhaps they would want Jesus to go away. People can cope with the world as it is, most of the time, but Jesus represents a power and a force they cannot understand. People are not used to supernatural events; they don’t fit in with the current view of the world.
The supernatural is frightening, it is a realm beyond human knowledge and control. In Scripture, Jesus is engaged in a supernatural battle with the powers of darkness, a battle far beyond the capacities of human minds. The people of the Gerasenes witness part of this battle and they are terrified. They want Jesus to go away.
But why such a reaction? There are other parts of the Gospel story where people encounter the supernatural and do not shun Jesus. In Saint Mark Chapter 6, Verse 49-50, there is the story of Jesus walking on the water: “they saw him walking on the lake, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’’’
Jesus could have responded in such a way to the people of the Gerasenes, he could have told them that this was God’s power at work and that there was no need to be seized by fear. Instead, Jesus gets into the boat and leaves.
Is there something more in these people than a fear of the supernatural? They seem determined that Jesus should not be welcome, they are unanimous that he should go away, “all the people of the surrounding country,” says Saint Luke. It seems there is no faith to be found among them.
Is it that their fear is not the supernatural, but the mere presence of Jesus among them? Do they fear the challenge he presents to them? Do they fear the questions that Jesus might ask? Do they fear the difference he might bring into their lives?
Had people now been there, what would have been their greater fear? The supernatural? Or the challenge Jesus presents?
People tend not to want to be challenged or disturbed, especially when it comes to church. Faith is something to which people look for safety and security, not something that they want to be disturbing and unsettling. People’s religion tends to be something that sits easily with their own ideas, their own political views, their own attitudes. People don’t want a faith which threatens the things they think.
Standing there, in the region of the Gerasenes, how would people now have responded? The New Testament is full of tales of people who encounter Jesus and whose lives are changed by that encounter. Would people now have changed?
The people of the Gerasenes are not bad people. They would have been devout in their faith, they would have observed the Law, they would have loved the traditions in which they were raised. Saint Luke tells us in Chapter 8 Verse 35 that these religious people’ came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. “And they were afraid.” Jesus is too much for them. Jesus shows the power of the Most High God and they are afraid and they ask Jesus to go away.
What does it say about their faith in God that they turn Jesus away?
People might be people without a fear in the world, except the fear of change, the fear of being different, the fear of having to think about their ways of thinking and living. People tend to be happy the way they are, they don’t want Jesus asking questions about the way they think, or speak, or live.
The people of the Gerasenes witnessed a great demonstration of God’s power and authority, but they did not want this man bringing change into their lives. There is a constant temptation for Christians to be like them, to read the Scriptures and to see God’s power and authority and to leave Jesus there, to ask him to stay in the pages of the Bible and not to be disturbed.
The people of the Gerasenes want Jesus to go away and he gets into the boat and leaves. The words of Saint Luke Chapter 8 Verse 37, must be among the saddest in the Gospel story. “So he got into the boat and returned,” they have rejected Jesus and he has turned his back on them.
How do people now respond to Jesus? Jesus left those people in the Gerasenes, their chance was lost.