When Jesus chose twelve disciples, He was deliberately making the claim that He was launching a renewing Israel project. At this point in Israel's history, there were really only two of the original twelves tribes of Israel to speak of, living within the boarders of the land of Israel: Benjamin and Judah. The other ten tribes were scattered here and there throughout the known world after having split off from Benjamin and Judah in the days of King Solomon and subsequently losing their sovereignty to rival the warring nations around them. The prophets spoke of a coming day when God would renew and reunite Israel (Jeremiah 3:17-18) in order to accomplish what God had always intended to accomplish through Israel. Jesus' identification of twelve disciples was a claim that He was doing just that. Jesus was claiming to be a one man renewal movement and whoever joined His group was considered part of the renewed people of Israel as far as Jesus was concerned.
This claim to be renewing and redefining Israel was a big reason that Jesus' movement was under such scrutiny. The Pharisees were already working on a renewal movement, which is why the purity of the nation of Israel was such a vital component of their arguments with Jesus. They saw themselves as experts on purity and they kept trying to contradict Jesus on the grounds of national and ritual purity. This isn't just because they didn't like some of the things that Jesus was doing in His renewal movement, but also because Jesus did not submit His Messiahship to them for approval before starting His campaign. Jesus continues to be controversial on this front in Luke 8.
Luke tells us that Jesus continued to travel with the twelve disciples but also that there was a group of women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses who also traveled with this renewing Israel caravan. They even provided for Jesus and His disciples out of their own pockets! I don't really know what the male/female relationship was like in Jesus' day. I only know that it is far too easy to make assumptions. But it is fair to say that Luke would not mention the fact of these women making contributions if it wasn't itself significant. It is also fair to say that receiving money from anyone is an act of humility because it acknowledges your need and indebtedness to the giver. And most men know (I wish I could say "all men") that to receive support from a woman who is your peer takes additional humility. Not too long ago in this country, it was expected that a man would pay for dinner, a movie, a dance, or whatever activity he asked a woman to attend with him. Men seem to have much less of a sense of financial responsibility to care for women today, ( is this what the feminist movement really wanted?) but it is nevertheless still there. I think it is part of our DNA. But this is OUR culture, not necessarily first century Palestine's culture. However, in first century Palestine, I believe that it was clearly understood that the woman's place was in the home caring for the needs of her husband and children. Yet, these women were caring for the needs of Jesus and His followers. It could very well be that these women had no other particular responsibilities. Having been recently delivered from prostitution and demon slavery, it is likely that these women were caring for nobody until recently. It does seem that the world Jesus was walking in was more of a man's world and that the act of receiving ministry from these women on Jesus' part was a significant act of affirmation and validation. When out of gratitude for Jesus' ministry in their lives, these women wanted to leverage what they had for the Kingdom of God, Jesus did not turn them away or send them back into "their place" but rather validated them as coworkers for the kingdom of God. This does not mean that they ceased to be women or that there was no longer proper roles in relationships between men, women and family. But it did mean, at the very least, that Jesus did not think their behavior was out of line, even if it was out of character for the culture of the time. Luke then gives us Jesus' famous parable of the sower as a means of explaining what has been happening in Jesus' ministry up until now: Jesus has been sowing the good Word of the Kingdom of God and it has landed on different soil. I think that one of the most significant parts of this parable is the fact that the "good soil" is not determined by some predisposition of the soil but by the final result of the sowing. The ground that produces good fruit is the ground that should be considered the good soil. We have just seen in the case of the prostitute and the Pharisees that it was not the one who had access to education and social structure (the Pharisee) who were producing the fruit of obedience. We might suspect that this was pretty good soil to be sown in. But this might be much like affluent Americans who have just as great a need as anyone for the Gospel, but we often turn our noses up at it. Rather it was those like the prostitute who saw the face of truth and believed Him, who sprouted and immediately began bearing fruit by pouring out her whole livelihood over Jesus' feet. The only way to determine whether or not the soil is good is based upon the fruit. The playing field is level where Jesus stands. No wealth, affluence or education gives you an advantage. Only believe and obey and you become part of Jesus' inner circle and the renewed Israel. Jesus says as much when He makes yet another deeply counter-cultural move by identifying His "family" as those "who hear the word of God and do it" as opposed to those who were of the same bloodline but who had come to correct him and take control of Him because they thought, and Mark makes this explicit in his own gospel, that Jesus was out of His mind (Luke 8:19-21). But Jesus pushes forward. Eventually, His family too would come on board, with James, His brother becoming a leader of the movement after the resurrection (Galatians 1:19) Maybe it was because even Jesus' family were objecting to what He was doing, that Jesus decided to sail across the lake to a region ("Decapolis") that was not clearly the land of Israel (it was disputed territory I am told) and let things cool down a little bit. Maybe it was just because Jesus was tired and that is why he fell asleep on the boat (Luke 8:22-25). Interestingly, this story, we have to assume, was very deliberately constructed to parallel another story of a prophet from Israel who was going to a foreign land, and fell asleep on a ship that was endangered of being capsized (the story of Jonah). In that story, Jonah the prophet was disobeying God and was not going to Nineveh to prophesy as God had commanded. As a result, the sea was made calm only when Jonah was thrown overboard. In the case of Jesus, He was not running from God but a storm came up all the same. But unlike Jonah, Jesus calms the sea with only a word. In the world of the ancient Jews, the sea was thought to symbolize chaos and evil because of its relation to primordial waters of pre-creation and because of its uncanny nature on the Sea of Galilee to suddenly stir up into a deadly storm. (You may recall the monsters come out of the sea in the book of Revelation?) Ultimately, however, Jesus would throw Himself into that sea of evil., not because of His guilt, but because of the world He loved so much, and the sea stopped its raging. It is because Jesus was THIS God that the sea obeyed His command to be still. Jesus is the same God that brought those chaotic primordial waters into order in the first place with a word. And because of this, the disciples begin to stand in awe of Jesus as His true nature shines through.
It is quite possible that another reason Jesus crossed the lake to this disputed territory was because He was indeed concerned with renewing all of Israel, including Samaritans and those in Decapolis who maybe were cut off somewhat from the more Torah contentious Israelites in Jerusalem. There is more to be said about this demonized man in Gerasenes than I can begin to comment on in one overview blog or podcast but whenever I read this story, I am reminded of a time when, as a youth group leader, I was pointing out to my students that this man of the tombs was a "cutter". He spent his time gashing himself with stones. One student, in a fully-baptized, "tolerant," spirit-of-the-age suggestion said that maybe the man liked to live this way. I had no reply because I was simply dumbfounded. I did not expect such an answer. The ironic thing in this story is that the "man" begs Jesus saying "please, please, do not torture me!" I put "man" in quotations because the story bears out that this man was not really the one speaking but rather the demons were speaking through him. This is not an uncommon occurrence when dealing with demon possessed people. The man, after all, was busy torturing himself on a daily basis, living among the dead and cutting his skin and bruising himself with rocks. What would he be afraid Jesus would do to him? My young friend in the youth group seemed to think that the man had a point, begging Jesus not to mess up his apparently good situation. In the end, however, Jesus doesn't listen to the voices of objection and He casts the demons out. The man in turn is not tortured but is returned to civilization and begs Jesus to allow him to accompany Him on His mission. But Jesus doesn't allow it and instead points the man back home to tell his community what God has done for him. This is another sign that, while the land of the Gerasenes was not Jesus' main target for ministry at the time, He was concerned that they too would know that God is becoming King in Jesus. And in fact, when the man went home to tell his community "what God had done for him", he ends up telling them what Jesus had done for Him. The two seem more and more inseparable to the crowds as Jesus' ministry and movement continues. The community witnesses the healing of this man who is "clothed and in his right mind". Jesus has removed shame and chaos and has even calmed the raging sea. This is what happens when God becomes King, the world is healed and put in order.
Finally, we meet a man of a high profile in the local Jewish community. Jairus, a ruler in the synagogue comes to Jesus in the proverbial eleventh hour in desperation as his only daughter is about to die. We may wonder if this man could have come sooner but wrestled with the risk of associating himself with Jesus. At the brink of death, this man decides that he must risk reputation and seek the healing touch of Jesus for his daughter.
While Jesus is on the way to the synagogue ruler's house, a women touches Jesus' robe and is cleansed from a twelve year old illness that has made her unclean and ha excluded her from much of the community life. Jesus is aware that power has passed from him into someone for healing and seeks out the person who has touched him. Meanwhile, the little girl dies. But in both cases, Jesus is assuring those seeking healing that they ought not to be afraid, either of retribution or humiliation, nor of the apparent hopelessness of death. With just one touch from Jesus, all uncleanness, all shame, all death and all hopelessness is completely removed.
It is no wonder that Luke keeps telling us that the people were "astounded". How else could you describe these events? But still Jesus warns the exuberant parents that they ought to keep this event low key. This is odd to us who imagine that Jesus wants us to tell everyone how to get to Heaven. But that is not what Jesus is doing. Jesus is in the process of establishing God's rule and reign on earth as it is in Heaven. In order to do this. Jesus is going to have to confront, once and for all, the spirit of darkness that was manifested in man of the tombs in the land of the Gerasenes, as well as the human authorities who are sometimes used by evil spirits to usurp God's authority. But it was going to be a confrontation on Jesus' terms, not the satan's or man's. Therefore Jesus told the crowds to keep quiet about these things so that the powers that be would not attempt to arrest or kill Him before the final showdown could take place.