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“The Gerasene Demoniac”: The Very Revd Jeffrey John


Meaning for Today

The Church…finds the issue of exorcism extremely difficult. Anyone presenting the symptoms of the Gerasene demoniac today would be rapidly committed for treatment for multiple schizophrenia…Nor is it un-Christian to observe that God works just as truly….through normal medical means. Nevertheless there is a good deal of evidence…that the ministry of exorcism still has a valid place…though the reality of ‘possession’ by external forces remains debatable.

But…personal exorcism is not what this miracle story is really ‘about’. Rather, it is about the promise…of God’s ability to defeat and re-order the disordered powers that afflict both individuals and communities… Walter Wink analyses the functions of the ‘demonic’ within human social systems. He starts from St Paul’s observation that all the powers…are…set in place by God with a good purpose, but that they become demonic by turning from their God-willed function…the unique method that Christ taught…is one of non-retaliatory spiritual resistance… One may temporarily have to submit to the powers in the sense of suffering their violence, but one never submits to accepting their…values.


One of the mechanisms by which the powers maintain their…domination is by rigidly classifying those who are included and those who are excluded…The profundity of this miracle story is shown in the fact that Jesus goes out to heal the very one…who is the symbol of the alien oppression…Jesus steps outside the territory of Israel into ‘unclean’ territory, heals the most untouchable of the untouchables, and makes him in effect his first apostle to the other Gentiles. And he does it unambiguously in the role of God himself…

[The Church in India reaching out to ‘untouchables’]

Church Structures

The Church in our own country…resembles the ‘powers that be’ far more than a counter-culture that might contradict them…the Church has usually been ready to sanctify violence and warfare by the State. Its own structural life is based on a hierarchical ‘domination system’ comparable to that of any political state…its effective values, by contrast with its theoretical values, are very much of this world. Of course, the Church will seek to…speak up for the underprivileged…but it generally does so at a distance…The [CofE] draws up reports about the underclass and their innumerable social ills.

It has argued in favour of justice and generosity for some of the most marginalised, and has recently condemned popular persecution of our two currently most ‘untouchable’ and hated categories – asylum seekers and paedophiles. It is only rarely able to do what Christ does…to embrace and include them. We rarely succeed in making ‘them’ part of ‘us’, partly because ‘we’ simply do not know how to do it, and partly because the ecclesiastical culture cannot contain such a degree of human difference.

Worse, the Church perpetuates its own special kinds of exclusion and oppression, which even the secular powers have learned to abandon. The Church’s current fear of the effect of human rights legislation is a shameful irony, which should alert us to the extent to which we have begun to see our very identity as Christians in terms of the rules by which we exclude others. This fearful, ghetto mentality is typical of the world’s worst domination systems. In every age, it seems, the Church must define itself by those whom it labels ‘outsiders’, so that the rest can feel more comfortably ‘us’. That instinct to judge and exclude, which earned Jesus’ harshest condemnation, makes the Church look to outsiders more like a sanhedrin of the self-righteous than a company of joyful forgiven sinners, and it is still keeping out just the kind of people whom Jesus wants in.

How can I love my neighbour as myself
when I need him as my enemy –
when I see in him the self I fear to own
and cannot love?

How can there be peace on earth
while our hostilities are our most
cherished possessions –
defining our identity, confirming
our innocence?

Eric Symes Abbott

The image is Mark 5:13 Gadarene Swine by: Alan Coustick via Seed Resources

The story appears in Mark 5.1-20, Matthew 8.28-34 and Luke 8.26-39. The place is variously written in the gospels as both Gerasa and Gadara (hence of course Gerasene and Gadarene).

The above extract from Chapter 7 of Jeffrey John’s book ‘The Meaning in the Miracles‘ is reproduced by kind permission of the publisher, Canterbury Press (see ). If you follow the link to ‘The Meaning in the Miracles’ above, you will be able to read the whole chapter through Google Preview by searching ‘Gerasene’ and then reading Ch 7, pp 84-97. (My own extract is required to be limited to 800 words).

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