Gerasene Demoniac: A Scapegoat?

Text: Mark 5: 1-20

They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes.[a]  When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him.  This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain.  For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him.  Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him.  He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!”  For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside.  The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened.  When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.  As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him.  Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”  So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis[b] how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.



This miracle of the Gerasene Demoniac is a very powerful one. We see a man who cannot be bound by chains, who was perpetually crying and hurting himself. He lived in the tombs and was naked. He was the madman in the Land of Gerasenes and people saw to it that he was out of their collective life, living on the outskirts in the tombs. Now it is tough to find out if the Land of Gerasene is the locale in question or is it Gadara which is more plausible according to Jeffery John in the book ‘Meaning in the Miracles.’ That is why in Malayalam bible it is called “Gadara Desham”. The land of Gaderenes is mentioned in Matthew 8: 28 as well. Gadara was part of Decapolis that was autonomous Greek cities. Gadara in particular had Greek and Roman culture and was subjugated by Roman Imperialism. There was always a Legion (a unit of 6,000 soldiers) of the Roman army stationed there.

In this sense, Jesus going to this land with his disciples is an act of crossing the Boundary. It is the so called “Gentile” area. Here He sees the Demon possessed man who kneels in front of him. He declares the identity of Jesus as the “Son of the most High God”, and then pleads not to be tortured. For this man, relationship meant torture. He was beaten and chained by the people who encountered him. But he always broke open the chains. Collectively the people of Gadara were also in chains of the Roman subjugation. But they had found a scapegoat in the form of the demoniac who helped them divert their sense of subjugation. When Jesus asked the demoniac his name, he was so possessed by the feelings of subjugation that the biggest symbol of being chained was the presence of the Roman legion in the land of Gadara. Therefore the identity of the man had become the Legion. Now the foothold of the sense of possession was so strong, the subjugation so powerful that when Jesus called the demons out they requested not to send them to abyss but to send them into a herd of pigs. These pigs when they came out of the man plunged into the lake and drowned. The legion coming out of the man was a commentary of the hope of overcoming the subjugation of the social forces that get hold of us. Therefore when the people saw the madman or the demoniac sitting clothed, with the right mind, they got scared of him. They requested Jesus to leave the land. Jesus had robbed them of their scapegoat and this act of liberation was not welcomed.


Let me tell you the story of Claude Eatherly.  Major Eatherly was the captain of the Straight Flush, a B-59 that accompanied the Enola Gay in dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Responsible for reconnaissance and assessment of the effect of the bombings, it was Earthly who gave the signal to drop the bombs. After the war, he shared his remorse with the German philosopher Gunther Anders in a series of letters that became the basis for the book, Burning Conscience: The Guilt of Hiroshima. The tall, handsome Texan was completely undone by his participation in the use of weapons of mass destruction (which earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross and other honors). He was the hero According to his family, he wasn’t the same person after he left the military in the early 1950s. He was a haunted man, haunted by the inability of his fellow citizens to acknowledge the crime against humanity for which they were collectively responsible. “The truth is,” he wrote to Anders, “that society cannot accept the fact of my guilt without at the same time recognizing its own far deeper guilt.” As Eatherly’s mental health deteriorated, he seemed compelled to seek out punishment for his crime, to become the scapegoat for a nation that refused to acknowledge its guilt. In between hospitalizations, he became involved in a series of petty crimes leading to armed robbery. Eventually, he was committed to a mental institution based on the expert witness of psychiatrists.


What becomes clear here is significant fact that a society needs scapegoats to take away our collective guilt. The people who remind us of our subjugation and live it out are abandoned and put on the margins. We need the category of the insane or mad that will keep us amused at the expense and dignity of the people. Living in the Northeast one becomes more aware of the Life and impact of Irom Sharmila who has been on a hunger strike for last 12 years protesting the draconian law of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), 1958. She has internalized the subjugation of the people of the Northeast where the violence of the state defines her existence and repealing the violent act her goal in life. She is arrested as a ritual on attempts of suicide, she is fed on the state expense. Such a sense of protest is either romanticized by one section of the society that is just happy in the cult of Irom Sharmila and the State per se has marginalized her where the narrative of National Security makes this persons attempt just a stunt that is pure madness. As a civil society these things don’t affect us as we are not able to relate with these struggles. But such protests show the collective pathology of the society that is indifferent to various forms of collective subjugations. The justification of the Crucifixion of Jesus was justified by Caiaphas the High Priest who advised “That it was better to have one person die for the people” (John 18: 14). That is the narrative that we live by. It is better for a society to have scapegoats than the status quo be challenged. So even if people’s lives are endangered, we do not care as long as we are promised electricity by the Nuclear plant in Koodankulam. Lives were maimed, women raped, people butchered and killed to qualify it to be genocide, but that does not matter now as long as the person who engineered it symbolizes progress and comfort to us, so much so that he is the hero who will run for the Prime Minister’s office. It is but a Collateral Damage that is necessary.


The healing of the scapegoat that is the Demoniac, gives us hope that is fulfilled in the words  “Blessed are the Meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5: 5). Let us be condemned of our collective subjugation and guilt in reading this text. Amen.


P.S. The idea of Scapegoat is derived from Rene Girard’s Theory of “Violence, Religion and Scapegoat”.


Rev Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrian Church





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