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Tony's Reflection 51
Can you name any of the hit cinema films of 1974?
Even if you are not old enough to have gone to watch them when they came out, you will probably have heard of at least some. You could have chosen “Blazing Saddles”, “Towering Inferno” or “Young Frankenstein”.
There was another altogether darker film which caused a huge stir back then. On the 16 March 1974, The Exorcist was released in the UK. It attracted long queues outside cinemas as people flocked to see it, even though many in the audiences were severely traumatised by what unfolded on the screen in front of them. You can find some fascinating “before, during and after” photos online, showing light-hearted, happy crowds waiting for admission, the shock on their faces while they watched and then how subdued those same crowds were, as they made their way home.
Mark brings us some similarly graphic material, in our next episode (
). This is one of the longest and most detailed stories in the whole of Mark’s gospel.
Mark is never wasteful with his words. Sometimes he tells the most astounding stories, with amazing brevity. Here, though, he goes into remarkable detail. Mark wants to give us a picture of Jesus in graphic, high definition finesse.
These events clearly made a huge impression on Mark and on Peter, who saw them unfold and told the story to young Mark. Let’s take a closer look and find out why…
We pick up the story, with Jesus and his disciples in their boat, on the lake. The disciples are cowed into awed silence. They have just been through a ferocious storm. They were in fear of their lives. Jesus simply stood up in the boat and shouted to the storm to be quiet. And it did.
Questions of “How did he do that?” have given way to “Who is he, that he can do that?” Not a word is exchanged as they make their way to shore. They are starting to see their friend, in a whole new light.
As they pull up on the shore and get out of the boat, they can see someone in the distance running towards them. Mark simply calls him, “the man”.
They are used to Jesus being mobbed by huge crowds, so to start with, there is relief that there is just one person. Yes, they are going to get some peace and quiet at last. Or are they?
As the man comes closer into sight, the disciples realise who he is. This man is trouble.
Everyone knew who he was. Mothers warned their children never to go near him. He lived in the tombs and nobody dared go to mourn the dead without a sword and some strong-arm company. Even then they were taking their lives into their hands.
This man quite literally was not human. Strange, evil forces lived inside him and had taken over his entire personality.
There was nothing left, by now, of the man he had been. Nothing left of human dignity. He went naked. Nothing left of human rationality. He ran around screaming, crying out in a thousand tormented and tormenting voices. Nothing left of any hope. The man slashed himself with anything sharp he could find, desperately trying to cut himself open, so the demons inside would come out as his blood flowed.
He terrified the locals. They had even tried chaining him up, but could only watch aghast as he writhed so terribly and powerfully under the strength of the demons in him that the chains just broke. All they could do was to banish him to tombs… and stay away.
The man comes running down the hillside toward Jesus. The disciples are transfixed with horror. They huddle together for safety. No one dares take their eyes off the man. Peter picks up a nearby piece of flotsam wood. If the man comes any closer, he will get it…
The man comes closer. He isn’t interested in the disciples. It is Jesus he is after. Jesus moves forward to protect his friends, cowering behind him. He is totally unfazed.
The man runs on and on, ever closer. They can hear him screaming in voices not his own. His nakedness is disgusting. His open gashes and infected cuts are pitiful. The disciples brace themselves. Jesus steps forward again and then…
The man throws himself into the gravel, at Jesus’ feet. The voices that terrified so many are now themselves utterly terrified. The demons who have tortured this man horribly for so long are now frightened themselves of being tortured. Tortured by Jesus. They beg Jesus not to torment them. Jesus has commanded them to go and they have no choice. They must go somewhere. But where? They beg Jesus to send them into the herd of pigs grazing nearby. He gives permission and into the pigs they go. The man is free, but now the pigs are tormented. They run straight off a cliff edge and into the sea, squealing horrifically as they drown. All 2000 of them.
The man is calm. He has known no peace for years, but now he is utterly tranquil.
The disciples have heard stories of exorcisms before. Like The Exorcist film, getting rid of demons back then was often bloody and dirty, with casualties on all sides. Not with Jesus.
They have never seen or heard of anything like this.
These demons hadn’t come out fighting, they had begged for mercy.
“Be quiet” and a storm stops.
“Come out” and thousands of demons scarper.
Who is this Jesus, that he has power like this?