A man of the city...
In today’s gospel, Jesus is doing what we experience from him so many times. He is crossing boundaries.
The first line of our reading makes this clear because it tells us that, “Jesus and his disciples arrived at the country of the Gerasenes…” To make certain we have no doubt that he has crossed a boundary, the second line is added, “…which is opposite Galilee.”
He is among the Gentiles. People who he and his disciples would have been taught are unclean.
There is no specific reason for him to be here. He hasn’t gone to visit someone he knows. No one has asked him to come and heal anyone. He’s just here in the country of the Gerasenes among strangers.
In this section of Luke’s Gospel the writer is progressively revealing who Jesus is. First in his reaction to being told that his mother and brothers were outside waiting to see him. To this news he announces that, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”
After this, he gets into a boat with his disciples and says, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” In these passages, Jesus falls asleep and the weather started getting rough and the disciples wake Jesus because they fear that they will drown.
He calms the sea and chastises them for their lack of faith. They are amazed that he has power over the wind and waves.
Just as they have this realization, they arrive in the country of the Gerasenes. Now in this foreign land, a demoniac confronts Jesus. This “man of the city” has been living among the tombs, naked. He has been possessed by demons for many years. If being among gentiles was unclean, this is over the top.
Mark’s version of this story tells us that the man runs from a great distance when he sees Jesus. In Luke he merely falls at Jesus’ feet and exclaims “at the top of his voice…” “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”
This is very formulaic language which first appears in the Hebrew Scriptures. It’s meaning is that the one making the statement knows that they belong in two different realms that are supposed to remain separate. Mark’s use of the man running from a distance reinforces that meaning.
The demons know that they are from a different world than Jesus. They are not Holy. They are not of God.
Jesus confronts the demons directly, “What is your name?” The demons reply that they are legion. Legion of course is not a name, but a number, the number of soldiers in a division of the Roman army. The number is five thousand.
We can’t know that the number is correct. But it does tell us the complexity of the possession that the man is experiencing. We already know that he is not dwelling among the living. But interestingly, he is naked. This may only mean that all of the people of the city were fully aware of his condition. It may also mean that he was openly living this corrupt life separate and alone from his community.
The demons beg Jesus not to order them back onto the abyss. Mark uses the words “out of the country.” But Luke goes further and uses abyss. The abyss is “the depth of the sea, under the earth, the primeval world of gloom and darkness, the bottomless pit where demonic powers are confined by God.”
This image speaks to the victory of God over the powers of darkness. The fact that the demons in our man use this image is to show that they know that God acting through Jesus has power over them.
Now the demons beg Jesus to let them enter a herd of swine. He gives them permission. They may think that they have tricked Jesus. But the swine, which were viewed as unclean by Jesus and his disciples bare the demons into the lake and the demons perish with the swine.
Some Biblical scholars have gotten into a debate over this action. Some say that is was evil of Jesus to kill the swine that were the livelihood of some other people. Others say that the swine are inconsequential compared to the life of the man. In reality, it’s irrelevant. The use of the swine in this way only serves as a metaphor for uncleanness being a host to demonic forces.
Of course the local swineherds saw what happened and ran to tell the people who came out to see for themselves. They found the man, fully clothed, in his right mind, sitting at the feet of Jesus. Sitting at the feet of Jesus is an image that tells us that he is now an obedient disciple.
The People who witnessed the event told of how the man was healed. The Greek word for healed can also mean, “saved.”
All of the people are now afraid, and not in a good way. They ask Jesus to leave.
What could they be afraid of?
Some might think that they are afraid that Jesus might drive more animals into the sea.
I don’t think that this is why they were afraid.
It could be that they were ok with the man’s demons. Having a man living in their city who was clearly out of his mind could allow them to cast other demons of their own on him. This may be why he was not able to overcome them on his own, even though he had hit rock bottom, homeless, with no clothes, living among the dead.
It’s possible that they had become comfortable with his demons and preferred to live with them as opposed to this new man who could now move among them and live next to them. The familiar is sometimes easier to deal with than the new and different.
This healed man might force them to own their own guilt and how they might have contributed to the events.
It’s possible that they were afraid that Jesus might identify their demons, the ones that they were personally comfortable with. What if he drove them out and they would need to learn a new way of interacting with each other?
I think that Jesus was asked to leave because his mere presence among them demanded that they take accountability for their lives and their demons, many of which get in the way of the coming of the kingdom of God.
Remember the line from the Gospel when we hear that Jesus had already commanded the unclean spirits to come out of the man?
So Jesus gets into the boat to return. The man who had the demons driven from him asks Jesus to let him come with him, but Jesus tells him, “return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.”
We are told, “…he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.” In this interesting switch of names we also hear the proclamation of the Incarnation. Jesus tells him to thank God and the man goes about thanking Jesus.
The message of the incarnation is we already know the presence of God in our lives. We are called to be accountable.
Last Sunday morning there was a “man of the city” in Orlando. This man had many demons as we have come to learn over this past week.
Many people want to make the incident in Orlando all about this man and his demons.
But if we look carefully at what happened and not just the desperate hours that he acted out his demons, but look also at how we as a society contributed to the dynamics that allowed this sad and evil event to happen. Then we might find ways that we can be accountable and ways that we can find hope among the sorrow.
In reality, we were all wounded last Sunday morning. It was not just a club full of gay men that were attacked. If you study the names and their stories, there were mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, gay and straight. Some people were the to find out who they were.
But we must all look for our demons in this tragedy. We must find ways to change the future to make it safer for all of us. We must put the demon of fear aside and find hope in following our covenant and working for peace and justice, respecting the dignity of every human being.
I know there is a line of thought that says that we can’t say Omar Mateen’s name that it would somehow be a victory for him. I would remind you that we are called to pray for all people even those who hate and hurt us. It’s what we do as Christians. It shows the love of God that we want all people to see.
So as you continue to pray about this national tragedy, remember all who died because this will help us to begin to understand all the demons at work.
We are called to be the Body of Christ, to hold each other in love, to cross boundaries, to reveal our divine nature, to be co-creators with God in a world where there is much pain and sorrow and injustice.