The man had been dwelling among the tombs, and no one could restrain him any longer, even with a chain. In fact, he had frequently been bound with shackles and chains, but the chains had been pulled apart by him and the shackles smashed, and no one was strong enough to subdue him.
Saint Mark often gives us important details that the casual reader might overlook, details that bear pondering.
In today's gospel, we first notice the pathetic condition of the possessed man and Jesus' powerful intervention. He has been howling and screaming night and day among the tombs and on the hillsides. A terrifying freak, he is strong enough to shatter the iron shackles on his arms and legs; and powerful enough, we can suppose, to attack and kill children, women, the elderly and all but the strongest men.
But for all his threat his people have not killed him. Perhaps they've discussed it; some people find killing the simplest way to deal with problematic human beings. They've may wished he were dead. They surely prayed for relief.
But mostly they tried to contain the threat and, at the same time, ease the poor man's suffering. He too, in his madness, showed enough restraint to avoid the village where they huddled together. He stayed in the graveyard and wandered the hillsides.
When Jesus arrived he had compassion on the demoniac and on his people.
The scripture reminds us we're all in this together, we need one another, and Jesus' compassion surpasses his concern for individuals. He saves the families, villages and cities where people live, and the surrounding countryside.
It's very fine to recognize the Lord's concern for the isolated sinner. We all feel isolated in our sins and we often wish he would visit us in our solitude.
But the human being is not a solitary creature. "It is not good for man to be alone." the Lord observes in the first pages of the Bible. We're not meant to be alone; one might survive in isolation, but no one thrives without other people.
The Lord has come to save us, meaning our families, neighborhoods, cities, states and nations. And churches. His mercy is superabundant.
More, the Lord saves our history. Because a human community is necessarily rooted and shaped by its history, including those dreadful things we'd rather forget, the Lord heals, integrates, saves, illuminates and glorifies our past. Even deicide, the murder of God -- almost unthinkable except it really happened -- becomes in God's merciful hands a Saving Grace.
"His mercy is without end!" we sing as we invite the Lord to heal our past and present and guide us to the future.