Saturday, June 22, 2013

All Together On The Other Side

All Together On The Other Side
Luke 8:26-39 / The Healing of the Gerasene Demoniac

A man inhabited by demons is healed. We find this kind of story to be primitive – really, who believes in demons these days. But first, the back story.

Jesus has been busy teaching and healing in Galilee. He and his disciples get in a boat to go over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee – that is, to Gentile territory, which is to say foreign territory – strangers, aliens, people utterly unlike ourselves. It shows tremendous trust on the part of the disciples to get into the boat and go over to the other side. That trust is put to the test almost immediately. A storm comes up on the sea. The boat is filling with water. Jesus is asleep in the back of the boat. Frantic and in danger of sinking, the disciples wake Jesus up. “Master, Master, we are perishing.” Jesus gets up, stills the storm, the wind and waves cease. It is calm. In a scene reminiscent of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid looking back at the cloud of dust, horses and men pursuing them, the disciples ask themselves, “Who is this guy, anyway? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” Jesus has a question for them, “Where is your faith?”

Try to imagine yourself in the boat, in the storm, with Jesus asleep. The boat is filling with water, the wind is battering the boat, waves washing over the sides. Where is your faith at moments like that? After all, we all have days like this. Days when we feel as if everything is sinking, fast. Days when it feels as if God in Jesus is sleeping, not on the job, not there when we need him. Where is our faith at times like this?

As Paul Harvey used to say, now for the rest of the story. After surviving the storm, they arrive at the other side where there is a man inhabited with demons. A man who had no home. A man who had been living in the tombs outside of town – tombs - death. A man who was chained hand and foot, but he had broken the chains and had been driven by the demons into solitary places. A man who had been made to live outside the community because – he was different, he was possessed, he was not like anyone else, he was scary. He was alone.

Jesus tries to drive the demons out of the man. The man says, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” Jesus asks for his name. Legion. We are Legion because we are many – like a Roman legion. Like the occupying Roman military forces who dominated the social and political landscape of life throughout the Empire. Not just a demon, but a legion of demons possessed the man. And they beg Jesus not to be sent not into the Abyss.

Nearby is a herd of pigs. Lots of pigs. Lots of demons. The demons beg Jesus to send them into the pigs. One wonders if the disciples notice that the demons know who Jesus is. They know what he is capable of doing for them. They do not hesitate to take advantage of his great powers. Jesus grants them their wish to go into the pigs. Immediately the pigs run headlong into the sea and drown. Hog futures plummet. The local economy takes a beating, but the man is back in his right mind – he is healed. Those tending the pigs run off and tell the townspeople what is going on out near the tombs – new life for the man they had chained and left out there to live on his own, and the pigs are gone.

The people come to see for themselves. We are told they are afraid. The man is in his right mind. It seems as if life was more tolerable if he were to stay in his place, chained and in the tombs. After all, he is an outsider. They beg Jesus to leave. He obliges them, and gets in the boat to return to the other side. One imagines the disciples are all too happy to get out of the land of the Gerasenes, from the man, from the now drowned pigs, and away from the tombs.

Where is their faith now? Where is our faith? How might we deal with someone like this man? How do we deal with our own demons? Are we even willing to admit we are beset with legions of demons? What do we make of such a strange story?

For instance, do we even realize that as individuals, as a society, we treat “others” the way the town had treated this man? We isolate people, chain them with our own fears, force them to live beyond the boundaries of our own day-to-day lives, keep them “in their place,” build fences to keep them at bay. All because they are not just like us. Yet, what a terrible world this would be if everyone were just like us. We would lose the diversity that makes life interesting and whole. We would deny ourselves access to the gifts that others bring to the table, to our lives, to our culture – all in the name of protecting our “way of life” when doing so only becomes the way of being stuck in one place, or, even worse, the way of death. It turns out that God has given us all we need, only the gifts I need have been given to you, and the gifts you need have been given to me. It is only in the giving and sharing of all of our gifts that we grow and thrive and live.

Then there are those pesky demons. We like to think we are more sophisticated than all that. Demons are the things of myth and represent primitive attempts to explain all those internal fears, anxieties, loneliness, and all the spectrum of  human disorders we publish every decade or so in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Even the recent release of its Fifth edition is met with a chorus of disbelief and shouts of “how can you medically and scientifically prove” these disorders exist? And yet, when an individual or group acts out of these disordered modes of being destroying property and lives in their way we inevitably end up referring to their behavior as “demonic,” or “evil,” and seek solutions which end up taking some form of chaining them and isolating them out among the tombs at the outskirts of town.

Whereas Jesus says, in effect, “Let’s see what we can do for this man. It will be good for him, and, ultimately, for us and for the whole town and region.” We might call this approach constructive engagement. We might call it therapy. We might simply call it helping others to become whole and a fully engaged and “members” of society. This is what the Bible seems to mean by “healing.” The demons are sent away to destroy themselves, not the man. The man is sitting there in his “right mind,” and the people are afraid. As Kurt Vonnegut once said in a sermon one Palm Sunday long, long ago, leave it to a crowd to look at the wrong end of a miracle every time.

We might look at this story as being rather primitive, or even somewhat bizarre. Or, we might try to look into the ways in which it really tells the tale of who we are and where we are as a society, as a culture and even as individuals. There lies the irony. We put so much hard work and effort into becoming individuals when in the end we all really want to be part of something much bigger – a family, a tribe, a culture, a town, a world which accepts us and embraces us as God in Jesus looks at this man and sees someone he can love.

As Jesus leaves, the man asks to go with him. And why not? These people are still afraid of him, and have spent a lifetime of refusing to work with him. But Jesus says, No, there is still work for you to do here right where you are, right where you have been all along. ‘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. Hanging in the air over the disciples who witness this episode must still be the question, “Where is your faith?”

Perhaps we are meant to see that Jesus trusts us to continue the work he begins. There is no end to the story, because we are the continuation of the story. We are meant to see ourselves living in this story. We are meant to see that God entrusts us to continue God’s work right where we are, just as we are. It may not be easy, but it will return us to our “right mind.” We may even learn how to treat others the way God in Christ treats us. This stuff may indeed be primitive, but at the end of the day wisdom knows no time and no place. We need only be open to wisdom be it ancient wisdom or new wisdom. Can we see that if the man in chains has a God given task, so do we? Together we can make a difference. And we do, every day right where we are. We are the rest of the story. Good day!  

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