Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then 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. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 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. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
I have to admit, this doesn't look like the easiest text to preach on. This text is complicated and obscure, at least to my experience. What can I say about demons and pigs that's relevant today? ...I guess we'll find out.
I did have some initial thoughts when I looked at the reading. First, this story emphasizes that Jesus has gone "opposite Galilee," into Gentile territory (hence the pigs). So here Jesus is saving a Gentile man who has been possessed by many demons. Jesus' ministry extends far and wide, and he cares about this Gentile man, too.
What I find striking is the dialogue between Jesus and the demons. They beg him not to send them back into the abyss — and Jesus allows them to enter the herd of pigs instead. Is Jesus also showing compassion for even the demons? Then again, what happens after the pigs drown? Maybe Jesus wasn't doing the demons any favors. Perhaps this note from the NET sums it up best: "The demons are destructive: They were destroying the man. They destroyed the pigs. They destroy whatever they touch. The point was to take demonic influence seriously, as well as Jesus’ power over it as a picture of the larger battle for human souls."
Then the swineherders, probably none too pleased about losing their livelihood, run back into town and spread the word. (I wonder if this would be the 1st century version of "The Boy who Cried Wolf"?) I would expect people to be angry — after all, they lost all those pigs — but their reaction is fear. In fact, they're so afraid, they ask Jesus to leave. Sometimes, the radical power of the divine is just too much to handle. For these people, life may be simpler if the power of God doesn't come too close.
Only the man who was healed wants to remain with Jesus, but Jesus sends him out — an apostle or evangelist among his own people. It's interesting that Jesus tells the man to share "how much God has done" for him, but the man proclaims "how much Jesus had done" instead. The action of God and the action of Jesus are so closely tied together here; God's action and Jesus' action seem to be interchangeable.
Well, those are my initial thoughts. Tomorrow, I'll check out the commentaries and figure out the focus of my sermon.