Pointing Toward Sunday - Pentecost 5C, 6/19/16 - Luke 8:27-39
26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me"— 29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30 Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" He said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. 32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. 34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
The people seem more frightened by the man after his exorcism than before.
Before Jesus, the man was understood - rejected, yes, but predictably so. "We can't have your kind running loose." When he would come too close to town, shackles were broken out...and broken out of. The tombs became a tenuous compromise.
There is a man in our neighborhood who often walks the streets by night screaming obscenities and threats. He grows especially loud when walking by the church and our parsonage home, shouting things like, "I'm going to hell and so are you, it'll be worse for you!"
But, for some reason, he rarely sets foot on the property. He feels bothered by the presence of the church and has plenty to say to God, but something usually prevents him from advancing further.
One day I was playing in the church park with my boys when this man walked right by us, seemingly of sound mind. After the initial shocked curiosity, I found myself tensing up and taking stock of the situation and the location of the kids.
Storming the sidewalks while shouting, I can understand. Strolling the park? What's going on? How long will this last? Should I engage him in relationship, learn his name? Should I save pleasantries for another time when my kids aren't present?
The demonized man in Sunday's gospel is the first person to greet Jesus and the disciples when they land on the Gentile (non-Jewish) side of the lake. Talk about your worst traveling expectations met immediately, perhaps even some stereotypes proving true.
Jesus had just calmed the storm on the lake. Now a "human storm" (NT Wright) approaches. Jesus calms him as well, stirring up the winds of suspicion among the crowd. Is he really at peace and free from his legion of tormentors? Would we prefer the return of our herd of swine to the restoration of this one man? And who is this exorcist slash swine-drowner?
In 2016, most of us don't know what to do about demons. Clearly my neighbor suffers from a mental illness, with at least occasional moments of peace and clarity. But it would certainly be improper to tag his illness with the demon label. Where does that leave the New Testament worldview charged with spiritual conflict?
Could there be a concern here greater than the impropriety of connecting the dots between extreme forms of mental illness and demon possession? How about this? The bigger problem is that when we "demonize" mental illness or clear acts of evil, we run the risk of setting ourselves apart from the captive influence of malign forces. We point our fingertips to those either disconnected from their right minds or disconnected from right action.
We fail to see our own captivity. And when we fail to see our own bondage, we fail to see Jesus as our Liberator. He frees the demonized; he merely fixes me.
Ultimately, the townspeople are not most frightened by the de-demonized man of the tombs. They are most repelled by the de-demonizer himself, Jesus. They practically quote the Legion of demons as they beg Jesus to leave them alone.
"What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God. I beg you do not torment me...
...go find someone who actually needs saving."