And They Were Afraid

This is, we are told in Luke, the response of the townspeople to seeing the man called Legion in his right mind. He certainly seems more frightening before having met Jesus. He was naked, living in tombs, able to break chains and shackles when the demons seized him. But Luke’s account suggests that people in Gerasenes had been trying to control for him for quite a while. Perhaps they had grown use to this wild and tormented man and were frightened by the change.

It has always struck me as odd that the people were frightened by seeing this delivered man, clothed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, and in His right mind. They are so “gripped with great fear” that they asked Jesus and his disciples to leave. It seems odd that they shooed Jesus away instead lining up all the other demon-possessed people.

But really, few things are more frightening than a person in his or her right mind. People who aren’t possessed can’t be owned. We may think it is the insane person who is unpredictable, but madmen, as G. K. Chesterton points out, live in a small and predictable world: “his mind moves in a perfect but narrow circle.” Whatever obsession may possess them renders them predictable. It is the completely sane person who frightens those in charge, those with deadlines, and those with an agenda.

First, it hard to know which side a sane person is on. Sane people have the annoying habit of seeing some truth on both sides. You can’t trust the sane to stick to the party line. Sane folks have the gall to admit the other side may have a valid point. They refuse to see things through the filters provided them.

Second, the loyalty of sane people cannot be trusted because they put first loyalty to the truth. Even when a lie is expedient, practical, and necessary, the sane person insists on speaking the truth, pointing out hypocrisy, and challenging flawed logic. Sane people will betray you every time. Just when you are about to implement your proposal, some sane person will ruin everything by pointing the inevitable but unintended consequences of your project.

Third, you never know what people in their right mind might say. They don’t stick to the script. Their minds not only work, but are always working, analyzing, and reasoning. New things are always occurring to them. When your whole project depends on people not noticing or asking about something, along comes a sane person asking hard questions.

Few things are more frightening than a person that can’t be owned, isn’t possessed, and sees all things in the bright light of reason and faith. They can’t be labelled or leashed. They are free and therefore frightening.

More frightening than the man once called Legion is the man who set him free. Sadducees and Pharisees fought like cats and dogs, but both groups were afraid of Jesus. Jesus scared the Romans and gave Pilate’s wife nightmares. No man was saner–or more dangerous.

About Mark

I live in Myrtle Point, Oregon with my wife Teckla and am the father of four boys. Currently I teach writing and literature at Southwest Oregon Community College. I am a graduate of Myrtle Point High School, Northwest Nazarene College, and have a Masters in English from Washington State University.
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