Breaking Chains

A howl, more animal than human, shivered the quiet of the Gadarene shore. Maki felt cold sweat trickle down his back as he scrabbled up the loose rock of the bluff that edged the Sea of Galilee. His ragged clothing clung to his spare body, and he clutched a twisted staff in his grimy hand. Maki had run the distance from his herd of pigs, and his chest heaved painfully from the exertion. At the sound of the howl, he almost turned and ran.

But he didn't. The Man who'd come ashore just moments ago would need his help, especially since the Man's companions had deserted Him. Maki couldn't let the Man stand alone to face the demoniacs who haunted caves and tombs of that desolate region. Together, Maki and the Stranger might have a chance of fighting off these madmen. Alone--he shuddered to think about it. He had seen the maniacs' victims--what was left of them.

As he clambered to a vantage point from which he could survey the scene, he expected to find the Stranger beaten senseless, the two devils slavering over Him. Maki couldn't have been more surprised.

The Man stood calmly on the sandy shore while the demoniacs circled Him warily, their fiery eyes locked on Him. He didn't move, not even to watch the one who slipped around behind Him. The mild lake breeze brushed the Stranger's hair and the folds of His garments.

The madmen contrasted sharply with the Stranger. Their clothing hung in shreds, unable to cover the raw redness of self-inflicted wounds. Bits of rope trailed from their arms, legs, and necks, mute witness to the unholy strength they possessed. The Man stood unafraid and waited.

In a voice straight out of Sheol one of the possessed screamed out, "What do You want with us, Son of God?"

The last words degenerated into a growl, but the Man stood His ground, His arms at His sides. And when He spoke to the madmen, Maki knew that it was not the words so much as it was the way the Stranger spoke. The earth seemed to reel at the tone of command in His voice. "Come out of these men, you evil spirits!"

Both of the demon men convulsed and crashed down into the sand, kicking and gagging. The madman at the Stranger's back clawed at the air, calling out in a pleading whine. "I beg you, don't torture us!"

The Stranger ignored him and addressed the other madman, who glared up at Him. "What is your name?"

The maniac dragged himself to his knees in mock supplication and leered at the Stranger. "My name is Legion," he said in a voice that began as a low moon and ended in a howl like the wind in an abandoned dwelling. "We are many!"

"Please," whimpered the other, "please, don't drive us out into the darkness!"

"Yes-s-s," hissed the first, "if You must drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs nearby."

Maki saw a cruel smile twist the demoniac's face. Then he realized what herd of pigs the demon referred to. His. Mind whirling from all he'd seen, Maki started to shout "No!" but the Stranger's voice cut off the word still deep in his throat.

"I will allow it," the Man said, looking up at Maki as though He'd known Maki was there all along. And oddly enough, Maki relaxed.

"Come out!" the Stranger commanded.

A sudden whirlwind whipped the sand around the two possessed men into a frenzy. The men screamed and retched, writhing in the swirling sand. The grit blinded Maki, and for several seconds he could hear nothing but the howling wind. He clutched a nearby boulder for protection Then silence followed. Only the lapping of the waves against the shore broke the stillness.

Maki had just succeeded in clearing his eyes when he heard his pigs begin to squeal. The whirlwind had settled on them. They began stomping and charging around as if driven. The other swineherds tried desperately to calm the beasts, and had finally resorted to beating the animals with their staffs. It didn't help. The pigs bolted suddenly in one direction, despite the flailing herdsmen, and hurled themselves aver the bluff and into the sea. The wind churned the water into a froth, and the terrified screaming of the pigs gradually lessened as the Sea of Galilee claimed them. The herdsmen scattered to inform the owners of their various herds. And Maki knew he would have to face the owner of his herd soon--something he did not want to think about just then.

Maki swallowed hard and glanced back at the Stranger and the madmen. He had to blink and swallow again. The two demoniacs who had come howling out of the caves were changed. Shreds of clothing still dangled from bruised and bleeding bodies, but they sat quietly in the sand, heads bowed, peaceful.

The Stranger took off His outer robes and draped them carefully over the men's shoulders. He spoke quietly to each one. Then He glanced up and smiled at Maki hiding among the rocks. No one had smiled at him for a long time. It felt good. When the Stranger's companions cautiously beached their sailboat, Maki knew he should leave, but the memory of the Man's smile went with him as he jogged off across the fields toward the town.

Maki found the owner discoursing with the rabbis near the entrance of the synagogue. They were involved in a discussion of ceremonial impurity and didn't notice Maki at first. When they did, the teachers gathered their robes about them to prevent themselves from being soiled by, a swineherd. The interruption annoyed his superior. "What is so important that you would abandon my herds and bother me here? It had better be good."

Wiping the sweat from his forehead and nervously shifting his weight from one foot to the other, Maki told the story. When the owner of the pigs learned that they had drowned, he broke into Maki's story, livid with rage.

"Dead!" he bellowed. "All of them drowned!" He advanced threateningly on Maki, who gave ground. "If you had stayed with the herd, none of this would have happened!"

"But--"

"Silence, dog! Some swineherd you are!"

Maki saw the blow too late to dodge it. He dropped to his knees, blood running from his mouth. His task master kicked him several times while Maki tried to crawl away or fend off the blows. When the owner had vented his anger, he straightened his robe and kicked dirt in Maki's face.

"You'll answer for this, I promise you, and so will this Stranger. I'm going out there right now. And He'd better be ready to pay for the inconvenience and property loss."

The man vanished into the crowd of onlookers who followed close behind. The rabbis turned and reentered the synagogue. Nobody bent to help Maki, who lay stunned and bleeding in the dust.

He remembered how the Stranger had treated the madmen and contrasted it with the way his employer had treated him. Maki could not get his owner's face out of his mind--the rage, the eyes on fire--just like the madmen's! Shivering, he pulled himself up.

"No more," he determined, holding his side as he limped out of town. "No more. Today I am free!"



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Him - Breaking Chains
Copyright 1990, written by Kenneth Fields