40- IN THE LAND OF THE GERASENES

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After the storm we disembarked in Gerasa, on the other side of the lake. Our boat with her tattered sail was moored near one of those black and pointed rocks by the cliff. Old Zebedee, Peter and Jesus, my brother James and I started to walk through the rocky ground along the shore toward the small town at the end, about a thousand meters away…

Zebedee: These pagans must be very fond of pork… Look how many swine there are! It’s an enormous herd…

John: Who could this man be, running toward us?… He’s making some signs…

Andronicus: I see you’re strangers…! Where do you come from?

Peter: From Capernaum, my friend, from the other side of the lake!

Andronicus: That far? And you traveled in such bad weather?

Zebedee: We were caught by the storm. We went out fishing and almost died!

Andronicus: It’s not surprising. Trypho announced it.

Peter: How’s that? Who said what?

Andronicus: Yesterday, Trypho went around Gerasa announcing to the people that a storm was coming, and that the sun was as red as a ball of fire.

John: And who the hell’s this guy?

Andronicus: He’s the adviser of the entire land of Gerasa, the sorcerer, a friend of the gods and the demons: He’s Trypho, the witch. Strangers, listen to me, if you want a piece of good advice.

Zebedee: Well, as they say in my homeland, he who listens to advice doesn’t perish young. Come now, what’s your advice?

Andronicus: If you wanna cross the lake again, you’d better consult the powerful Trypho first. He’s gonna tell you whether to go or not. He’ll unfold for you the mysteries of the sea and the land, as well as the sky.

Peter: If indeed he knows so much, let him tell us where to eat a good piece of lamb’s head, as we’re already starving to death.

Andronicus: You may have a good laugh now, but when you’re in front of Trypho, you may not feel like doing so. Come with me, strangers…

Jesus: Hey, you haven’t told us your name yet…

Andronicus: My name is Andronicus. I work as a swineherd for Aesculapius. All the herds you see belong to him. Come, follow me…

Andronicus, the swineherd, took us across the country surrounding the city of the Gerasenes. Behind, by a grove of oak trees, was the town cemetery. At the far end was an open cave…

Zebedee: Where are you taking us, pal? We have no need to reserve a space in this place yet!

Trypho: Ahh… Ahh… Ahh…!

John: Pff! at the rate we’re going… If I don’t take anything to warm my stomach, chances are you’ll have to bury me in this place!

Trypho: Ahh… Ahh… Ahh…!

John: Hey, Andronicus, who’s the one shouting?

Andronicus: That’s precisely where we’re going, strangers. In that cave, Trypho communicates with the living and the dead. Follow me!

We followed the Gerasene, passing over stones and tombs until we reached the entrance of the stinking cave. We covered our noses as we went inside…

Then we saw the famous sorcerer: his body was huge and hairy, barely covered by a dirty rag around his waist. His arms and feet were in chains. He was a mad man…

Andronicus: Trypho!… Kumi kerti!!

Trypho: Ah, ah, ahhh!

John: What’s he telling him, Peter?

Peter: What do I know? Even the devil doesn’t understand this jargon of the Gerasenes… Hey, Andronicus, what are we supposed to do, huh?

Andronicus: Shut up. The sorcerer is invoking the spirits of the dead.

Trypho: Ah, ah, ahhhh!

Andronicus: Trypho wants to know what you want.

Jesus: Nothing. Tell him we’re here to greet him….

Zebedee: …that we’re leaving before this nut hits us with his chain.

Andronicus took a piece of stick and made a sign to Trypho. Then the sorcerer approached us, with his two fists raised, like they were two hammers….

Trypho: Ah, ah, ahhh!

Andronicus: The spirits want you to ask questions and you’ll receive a reply.

John: C’mon, Peter, ask him anything.

Peter: What am I gonna ask him?

John: I dunno. Ask him who’s gonna win in dice tomorrow, or… if you’ll have good fortune this year. Ask him to read your hand…

Peter: Hmm… I don’t think he can do that…

Andronicus: You’d better make up your mind. The dead can’t wait for the living.

John: How about you Jesus, anything in mind?

Jesus: Well, yes… I’m gonna ask him something.

Andronicus: Ask him anything, stranger. Trypho is endowed with so many powers. He knows everything and discovers everything.

Jesus: Well, if that is the case, then ask him what should I do with Cleotilde. My knees tremble before her and I get dizzy when I’m with her.

Andronicus: Marratina!

When the mad man Trypho heard the swineherd’s command, he bent to pick up a stone on the ground and began to hit himself with it. Then he gave out a loud cry. He pulled off his tatters, and half-naked and bleeding, rolled over the ground, entangled in his own chains… After a short while, Trypho remained still, like a wounded animal…

Trypho: Ah, ah, ahhh!

Andronicus: Shh!… The dead spirits are now answering your question, stranger: She’s not the right woman for you. She can’t give you a child. Leave her and look for someone else.

John: Ha, ha, ha…!!!

Andronicus: Hey, imbecile, what are you laughing at?

John: Ha, ha, ha…!! Cleotilde is the name of Zebedee’s boat… You know, this Moreno’s scared of the water and gets dizzy whenever he’s on the boat! Ha, ha, ha…! Your dead spirits are fake!…

Andronicus: If you don’t have faith, then get outta here and stop bothering me. Have you come to provoke me? Trypho doesn’t want to be bothered.

Peter: Jesus, let’s go. This man can’t predict anything. He’s crazy.

Jesus: Yeah, we’d better go.

Andronicus: Hold it, strangers. Trypho doesn’t do this for free. It’s one dinar for every consultation.

Zebedee: A what?… Friend, the shipwreck robbed us clean of our pockets. We don’t even have a copper. You have barked up the wrong tree.

Andronicus: You gotta pay, otherwise you’re gonna be cursed by the spirits before nightfall.

Jesus: Hey, Andronicus, whom did you say you were working for?

Andronicus: For Aesculapius, the wealthiest proprietor in Gerasa. He trades purple in Damascus. He owns enormous herds of swine, as well as cattle, donkeys and camels.

Jesus: I see… and this poor fellow also works for him, doesn’t he? I guess you’re his business administrator, aren’t you?

Andronicus: Hey, what do you mean?

Jesus: I say this Aesculapius and you make big money out of the screaming of this poor man.

Andronicus: What nonsense are you talking about? Pay me the dinars, and get out of here.

Jesus: No, my friend, we’re not going yet. Come, I want to consult the “great Trypho” again.

Andronicus: He’s resting now. He can’t answer to you.

Jesus: Yes, he can, of course. Trypho, my brother, listen to me… They’re exploiting you!

Trypho: Ah, ah, ahhh!!!

Andronicus: Marratina!!!

Peter: He with his a-a-a while the other with his marratina, make an odd combination.

When the swineherd gave the order again, the mad man attacked Jesus who bent over, so Trypho landed on the ground. Thick and white saliva came bubbling from his mouth. This fit lasted for a few minutes… Then Jesus leaned over the poor creature and whispered something in his ear…

Jesus: Trypho, my brother, they ’ve abused you plenty, by using your sickness to suck money from gullible people. They use their ignorance in order to enslave you more… The Lord doesn’t wish to see you this way. C’mon, Trypho, get up… James, John, help me remove his chains. Maybe we can take the lock off with a sharp-edged stone or a knife…. and you, Andronicus, get outta here, fast…!

Peter: But Jesus, you’re crazier than he is. He’s dangerous, he can hurt you..

Jesus: No, you’re gonna see… Come Trypho, and keep still… We won’t hurt you…

Trypho: Ah, ah, ah…

Trypho went near Jesus like a tame dog and let him cut open the chains… He was free.

Meanwhile, Andronicus, the swineherd, rushed to his patron, Aesculapius and told him what happened and what the strangers from Capernaum had done. The news spread like wildfire. The Gerasenes left their houses and headed for the cemetery, to find out what was happening…

Woman: Tell me, what did you ask the sorcerer?

Jesus: I asked where the money of the foolish victims would go.

Woman: What was his reply?

Jesus: Trypho stood up and said: “To the pockets of Aesculapius! Believe me, countrymen, that was the only true prediction he made. The swine of Aesculapius got fat from your money.

While Jesus was talking to the Gerasenes, Trypho remained seated on a rock, his head buried in his hands. The women washed his wounds and his welts. They had also placed an old tunic over his shoulders. As we were about to go back to our boat, Trypho stood up and looked at Jesus, grinning at him like a child…

Trypho: Let me go with you…

Jesus: No, Trypho. You belong here. When people see you working and living like the rest, the people will say: There are no sorcerers nor witchcraft. Only God is powerful. Go and tell your neighbors how good the Lord has been to you.

Trypho: Yes, yes, I’m gonna tell everyone! I’ll tell everybody!

So he left and started to tell everyone in all the towns of the Decapolis what Jesus had done for him. Aesculapius, with the loss of his business, told people that the strangers from Capernaum scared his swine and that a herd of pigs hurled themselves over the cliff and drowned. Since then, this story spread through the land of the Gerasenes….

*Comments*
Gerasa (or Gadara) was a city by the oriental coast of the Lake of Galilee. It was part of the so-called Decapolis (a league of ten cities), a territory with Greek customs, and inhabited almost entirely by foreigners. For the Israelites, it was a Pagan area, the land of the gentiles. The ruins that are presently preserved range from two hundred to three hundred years after Christ. The swine (or pig) was an impure animal for the Israelites. To eat its flesh was strictly prohibited and it was a symbol of rejecting the Jewish religion. This rejection went to the extent of considering swine herding as something degrading. In Gerasa, which was a foreign territory, inhabited by non-Jews, such religious scruples did not exist. At present, the Muslims also prohibit the eating of pork. Popular beliefs are often manifested through magic, prophecies, witchcraft and various forms of superstition… Certainly, all these religious expressions hamper the survival of the Christian faith, as they are associated with fear, with a blind faith in destiny, in what is “written,” and have very little to do with a life of freedom and responsibility. What is even worse, however, is the business that derived from these beliefs. Behind gullible people is always someone who takes advantage of the situation. These “religious deals” also happen within the Catholic faith. The devotion to a number of saints, to miraculous relics that are being sold to the people, almsgiving to please a particular saint, and the pilgrimages which translate into an income for agencies of tourism, etc., are forms of this religiosity “used” to the advantage of some people. We should be wary whenever economic benefits are associated with religious belief. The criterion for the validity of any of these was given by Jesus himself when he said: “Give for free what you have received for free” and “You cannot serve the Lord and money.” In order to be close to the real God, a God who wants people to be free and happy, one must gradually shed off these primitive religious ideas which are an authentic “opium of the people” because they numb one’s senses, paralyze and prevent people from seeing clearly the true face of the God of Jesus, a God who wants His children accountable to history, and committed to transform the world. The miracle that Jesus performed on Trypho is a sign that God frees us from the chains of false religion. And it is a sign which does not only free him – a man mentally deranged and used as a business tool – but also the people, who, upon discovering the secrets of “fortune-telling,” shed off their many fears.

The story of the possessed man from Gerasa is a typical text in the Gospel that has “adorned” history in order to make it more spectacular and more dramatic. Through the times, events that impress people are exaggerated and magnified when retold, thus making them appear more marvelous. Certainly, behind those hundreds of pigs that hurled themselves into the devil-infested sea – as the Gospel describes it – there are several legends transmitted from one person to another, and which the evangelists, without any possibility of confirming them, put into writing in order to derive a message of faith from them.

(Mt 8:28-34; Mk 5:1-20; Lk 8:26-39)

40- IN THE LAND OF THE GERASENES

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