Luke 8:26-39 (New Revised Standard Version)
26Then [Jesus and his disciples] arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27As 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. 28When 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”—29for 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.)30Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
32Now 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. 33Then 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.
34When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35Then 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. 36Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37Then 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. 38The 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.
ELCA Book of Faith Initiative Devotional Questions:
What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text?
What delights me in this text?
What stories or memories does this text stir up in me? You might remember a time that you were afraid when something turned out in a way that you didn’t expect, for example.
What is God up to in this text?
As I read this text this month, I have a hard time truly getting into the shoes of the man known as the Geresene demoniac. I have felt like an outsider at certain times in my life, sure; I was not always picked first in gym or asked to sing the solo at the concert. However, to be so out of your mind that you are forced to live, not in a house, but in the graveyard? I cannot imagine what that kind of isolation must be like. And yet, I know that it continues to happen, even to this day. There are those who do suffer from mental illness, treated or untreated. There are those who are imprisoned, who are either considered such a threat or under such a threat from fellow inmates, that they spend long days in isolation. Some people who have been diagnosed with terminal illnesses such as cancer have also shared with me the isolation that they felt from this diagnosis, when the community “doesn’t want to bother” them in their time of difficulty, and then no one calls or visits or offers to help.
Jesus comes into this Geresene community and sees both a suffering person and a suffering community. What is surprising to me it that he heals the person and then sends that person to heal the community. The man is healed, returned to his right mind, and no longer needs to be isolated. However, the community doesn’t know what to do. The man, fearing that there will never be a proper place for him there, and perhaps remembering just how he had been treated over the years of his suffering, wants to flee. He wants to cling to Jesus, the source of his healing, the source of his new hope. Jesus, however, has other plans.
Did you notice the reaction of the community? It is not joy but fear. We hear about the dead herd of swine, but it is seeing the healed man in his right mind that causes the reaction of fear. What are they afraid of? Maybe they don’t like a challenge to the status quo. Maybe they don’t want to reorder their community to include one who was always on the margins. Whatever it is, it scares them enough that they ask Jesus to leave. Are they afraid he will spread more healing around? That their world might be turned upside down by more of his presence? They might not be so far from wrong.
And maybe that’s why Jesus calls the man to be his missionary in his own hometown. Jesus submits to the demands of the community, but insists that the healed man stay, return to his home, and “declare how much God has done for you.” This might be a new call to isolation for him. In declaring Good News to those who are afraid, might he not continue to suffer as an outsider? Or perhaps he is the perfect one for this job. He knows what it is like to be on the outside. He knows what it is like to be healed by Jesus. It is the story of his life, and only he is truly qualified to offer it up as a testimony to others again and again, as long as it takes for fear to melt into wonder, and wonder into thanksgiving, and thanksgiving into hope.
Where do you find yourself in this story? How is God speaking to you about the last, the least, and the lost? About fear? About community? I look forward to our discussions together as a parish in the coming month.
In Christ, Pastor Breen