Disturb Us, O Lord

Despite the gentle sound of the waves and the cool evening breeze descending over the lake, I couldn’t help but feel disturbed. The sunset over the Sea of Galilee should have soothed my soul, but my mind wouldn’t stop turning the story over and over.

I sat there on the eastern shore recalling the day and the place that had so rocked me. Not far from the quiet Kibbutz where my tour group was staying, we had trekked up into the Golan Heights. Tucked away in the hills were the remains of a Byzantine monastery, identified by tradition as the place where Jesus performed what is called “the Miracle of the Swine” or “the Healing of the Gerasene demoniac.”[1]

It was a story in the Bible I had never given much thought to, tucked away among the other miracles Jesus performed around Galilee. But that day, standing among the ruins, the story came alive for me. That night I lay in a hammock listening to the sounds of celebrations drifting across the water from the far shore. The western shore, the Jewish side of Galilee in Jesus’ time, was alive that night with music and lights.

Change, even for the better, is never uncomfortable or easy. Restoration comes at a cost.

Here on the Gentile side, all was quiet. It would not have been those many years ago, as the sounds of the tormented man echoed out across the waves. The disciples would have heard his cries from the other shore, that strange man in the foreign city. Surely there were stories about him circulating. A good Jew wouldn’t dream of crossing to the other side of the Jordan into that unclean, strange land on a normal day. But with a madman roaming around the tombs—unthinkable.

Yet, that is exactly what Jesus did, his disciples in tow. He initiated their journey to the other side, rowing into the storm and knowing what would await them on the other side: a naked, screaming man who said he was possessed by a legion of demons.

As soon as the man saw Jesus, he knew something the disciples did not just moments earlier when Jesus calmed the storm. “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me,”[2] he cried out. He knew precisely what kind of power Jesus held, and he wanted nothing to do with it.

The people in this area were ruled by fear and superstition. The tombs were believed to be the home of demons, which is why the man was there—not in the Decapolis, the ten Greek cities directly to the South, where he was from. The caves around the tombs were a refuge for people who had been cast out by society. He was utterly broken, an outcast, the lowest of low. Jesus sought him out with the power to heal. Yet he begged Jesus not to torment him any further. Why?

Change, even for the better, is never uncomfortable or easy. Restoration comes at a cost.

Sometimes living in a tormented state feels easier than the solution. When those demons were gone, what others were left for the man to face back home among his people? What wrongs would he have to make right? What darkness inside himself would he be forced to face? What relationships were there to heal? How would he pick up the pieces of a shattered life?

Faith requires a radical readjustment and reorientation of our lives.

At the end of his encounter with Jesus, we see him begging for something once again. Now, made whole, the man begs to go with Jesus. To go home, to those who cast him out, would be the harder route. Jesus sent him back to the very people who quaked with fear when they saw him healed.

William Barclay says in his commentary on this passage, “more people hate Jesus because he disturbs them than for any other reason.”

Jesus disturbed the lives of the Gerasenes. He didn’t just threaten their livelihood by taking away a few pigs from their herds. He threatened to upend their entire way of living as Gentiles. If his power was real, they had to respond in faith. Faith requires a radical readjustment and reorientation of our lives. And they weren’t willing to do that. So, they sent him away.

I turned over the thoughts in my mind. How many times had Jesus sought me out, prepared to heal me, and I refused? How often had I chosen to stay among the tombs than do the hard work that becoming whole required? When had I begged him to leave me be, just to leave me where I was because it was easier that way?

It’s easy to think of the healing stories of Jesus in a vacuum. He comes and brings wholeness and there is a happy ending, right?

Anyone who has come out the other side of grief knows healing doesn’t work this way. Those who struggled their way through addiction or who kept digging into the depths of trauma with a counselor know that the work doesn’t stop when healing comes.

We must be disturbed enough to turn toward healing, to make the choice not to stay there anymore. Beyond the pain, there is the work of continuing to live and love and forgive. We must keep making the choices of one who has been changed. Healing is a miracle, a gift. But it requires our participation and our will.

Healing is a miracle, a gift. But it requires our participation and our will.

It’s been years since that day I stood on the Galilean shore, but my mind often drifts back to that place. Whenever it’s feeling a little too easy to stay complacent, when the task of working out my salvation feels a little too heavy—I think back to the choice the Gerasene had that day.

He could take the healing he had received and stay where he was. Or he could do what Jesus asked of him and take it to others.

The ruins of the monastery are in modern-day Kursi. It was a major pilgrimage site for early Christians and was the center of the faith in Galilee for 300 years. The Gerasene is sometimes called the first Apostle to the Gentiles. He took his changed life and became a wounded healer to others, did the hard work of living a changed life every day among those who still saw him as a demoniac. He faced up to the demons that remained. Countless lives were changed because of his choice.

May we too be willing to participate in our own healing and that of others.

May we choose to say, “Disturb us, O Lord.”

[1] The story is found in Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-20, and Luke 8:26-39

[2] Luke 8:26, NRSV

Nicole T. Walters
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