Readings: Psalm 42 and 43 read responsively Luke 8:26-39
We pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our sustainer. Amen.
Today the lectionary takes us to a bible story set among the people of Gerasene – a gentile community living somewhere on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. It is a place where Jesus and his followers become foreigners, a place where the customs are different, not least the presence of herds of swine pivotal to the local economy. It involves a man who is an outcast within that foreign place – a man so tormented that he did not know who he was or what he was doing.
It is also a story that perturbs our sensibilities in a way at first glance. Why does Jesus seem to negotiate with the demons? Why kill the pigs and ruin the livelihood of many?
Its not a passage that lends itself to clear cut answers – although we can offer some context. The demons were actually going from the frying pan to the fire, did they but know it. Water was considered the abyss, the place of destruction for demons so they gained nothing by their negotiation. Why take a herd of pigs with them – well, it’s not only a dramatic visual image of the power of Jesus over evil but also a note of caution that the way of Jesus might lead to direct confrontation with the economic ways of the community.
Today, though, I propose to explore three teachings from this scripture that are relevant to our faith journey.
The first is gathered up in one word from the passage: ‘Legion’. As the man was asked for his name, he responded with the poignant answer; Legion, meaning a multitude. He does not know who he is. Oppressed by so many demons, lost in the cacophony of their voices, he is no longer himself, an individual, a person. He is a danger to himself and to others, less that human.
Jesus heals him, restoring his identity, his name, not letting the voices of others rule his life. He again has control over his life, is made whole in Jesus. And we would ask the question: what are the things of the world that keep us apart from God, the times when we think we are in control of our lives but actually we are completely sidetracked by the realities of life around us. You can answer this just as well as I can I know – it might be money issues, exhaustion, prioritising God out of your must do list, it can be chasing a forever elusive rainbow, it can be battling with mental or physical or emotional health and trying to do it on your own, maybe its about being overwhelmed: by hopelessness, anger, frustration, despair. But whatever it is, if it takes away our identity in Christ, if it derails us from living in the ways of truth and justice and mercy, perhaps we need to present ourselves to God’s grace and allow God’s voice back into our lives. It might mean losing some cherished bunkers we have surrounded ourselves with but it does also mean rediscovering the peace and healing of the living Christ.
The second teaching that leapt out to me in this passage is the fact that by following the way of compassion and healing Jesus put himself directly at odds with the community this man was to be restored to. It tells us that it may not have been all light and joy for this renewed soul if every time they saw him they also remembered the huge financial loss that his healing had cost them. It seems that Jesus had little or no traction in this unappreciative, fearful community, that the people of Gerasene had no desire to welcome, celebrate or applaud this miracle worker –– perhaps because they preferred the devil they knew? Or perhaps because they were so fearful of this kind of power that they turned their back on knowing more. Again the question for us is where is this happening in our lives? It can be when we refuse to face our sometimes uncertain future as a faith community with confidence and faith, when we prefer not to meet with the different, expecting somehow that it will be a threat or uncomfortable, rather than a place of growth and learning in Christ. And the devil we know – that temptation to put up with what is not ok fearful of what might take its place. Oh that is one for each of us to ponder I think.
And out of this second learning comes our third. This man healed by Jesus, this man that we in our wisdom would want to nurture gently along as he reintroduces himself to society, that Jesus might have wanted to invite along for a time of teaching and growing in the safety of the discipleship, this man whose healing has caused a major economic catastrophe and who might have wanted to get as far away from the scene as possible, was told instead to stay behind, to tell his story of how much God had done for him – in a hostile, gentile, unfamiliar place he called home.
This resonates hugely for me and I hope for you. For in his staying he ensures that his healing, this miracle that is Jesus in their midst will not be forgotten, not allowed to become a ‘fairy story’ shall we say. In his staying he is bearing witness to the truth of Jesus presence in his life – that is his story to share to those who would listen. Not armed with deep theological understanding, not well prepared for all the questions that might come his way, not working out of an established church programme or even community this man, this gentile, this former madman, is working out of the witness of Jesus Christ in his life and his wholeness. Can we do no less?
In a time of silence now and also in our week ahead we ponder our identity in Christ, our response to Jesus in our lives and our community and our witness to God’s truth in our lives. And we give thanks for God’s healing in our lives, today and every day. Amen