Mark 5:1-20 tells an amazing story.
Jesus visits the "region of the Gerasenes", on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, and encounters a man possessed by many demons. The story describes the man's pitiful state: He lived alone among tombs, cried out uncontrollably night and day, cut himself with stones, apparently ran around naked, and was completely beyond anyone's ability to control him. He had "often been chained hand and foot", but always "tore the chains apart". This poor man displayed super-human strength coupled with sub-human conduct, in a hopeless and tragic situation.
Can you imagine such a frightening spectacle in your community? Can you imagine the legend that would have spread to the surrounding area? Can you imagine growing up as a child with this very real monster menacing the outskirts of your town? Can you imagine being a parent trying to comfort your frightened child and get him to sleep at night despite the mad howling in the distance? Can you imagine the hopelessness of there being literally nothing anyone could do about it?
The story doesn't make clear how long this man had been like this. It's fair to assume he was not born this way, which would indicate someone must have known this man before he was overtaken by these demons. Imagine the grief of looking at this monster, and seeing the contorted face of a friend who no longer knows you.
The story conveys a sense of acceptance of the situation. The townspeople have done all they can to try and subdue the man, but to no avail. It seems that things have come to an awkward stalemate, with everyone knowing something is terribly wrong, but everyone coming to a strange peace with it. Learning to live with it. Accommodating it. Making plans around it. Explaining it to outsiders. Less and less often even contemplating life without it.
Then, Jesus comes ashore in a boat, and nothing is ever the same.
The demons, who recognize Jesus as the Son of God, are driven out of the man, and into a herd of swine, who rush into the sea and drown. The men keeping the swine run away and bring back the townspeople, who see a sight they had long since given up on:
"...they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind..."
It's easy to judge these people from this safe distance, but should this not have been a cause for immediate celebration? A chorus of "Ding-Dong, the witch is dead"? An embrace of a long-lost friend? An outpouring of gratitude to Jesus?
Instead, there is one singular reaction: "...and they were afraid."
Immediately, the people "plead with Jesus to leave their region". Jesus obliges, getting back into the boat and shoving off. The formerly demon-possessed man wants to accompany Jesus, but instead Jesus sends him out to spread the news of what He had done, and the man carries out this mission.
They were afraid? Afraid of what? Hadn't the source of their fear just been eliminated? Sometimes it's a question of what a person fears more.
These people feared Jesus's power to purge and to transform more than they had feared the very evil He came to overcome. They had made room in their lives for the demon-possessed man, but not for the Son of Man, with power over the very demons they so feared.
He has power over our demons, too. But, the question is: What do we fear more? The sin we accommodate in our lives, or His power to remove it and make us more fit for His service?