Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Proper 7/Year C: June 23, 2019
Gospel: Luke 8:26-39
Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, June 23, 2019
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. –Amen
In today’s Gospel, Jesus arrived, with his disciples, at the Gentile country of the Gerasenes. When Jesus stepped out of the boat, he was met by a naked, demon-possessed man, who was not in his right mind. The people in the community feared the man, and discarded him like an animal, to live amongst the dead in the tombs, no longer fully human.
He fell down at Jesus’ feet and shouted, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High?”
This is a strange question, considering the man had approached Jesus. The logical question would be to wonder what the man wanted from Jesus. The dialogue unfolds with subtle voice swapping. There are three voices speaking within the encounter. The first voice heard is that of the demon-possessed man, initially identified in the text with the pronoun, “he” and the possessive adjective, “his;” the second voice heard is that of Jesus; and the third voice is the collective voice of the demons, referred to as “they.”
When Jesus commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man it is clear that Jesus was speaking to the unclean spirit. It’s not as clear when trying to determine to whom Jesus was addressing the question, “What is your name?” The text says that Jesus asked “him”—but it’s not clear who the “him” is. Was Jesus asking the man or the demon his name?
We are told that he said, (not they said), he said, “Legion”—a term that described upwards of 6,000 Roman soldiers. It is possible that the thousands of demons had so enslaved the man that the man’s voice and the voice of the demon were dangerously entangled, such that it would be nearly impossible to delineate who or what was answering Jesus’ question. It’s often just assumed that the demon answered Jesus’ question.
But, it’s possible that Jesus, in his perfect humanity, intentionally directed his question, “What is your name?” to the broken and tormented human being standing before him. It is also very possible that the remaining sliver of humanity within the man, enabled the man to utter the name, “Legion,” having been possessed for so long that he no longer identified with his own name.
The dramatic scene of the demon-possessed herd of swine that rushed down the steep bank to drown in the lake provided a visible sign of the exorcism. Consider that exorcising the demon, in this narrative, had less to do with Jesus’ divine authority in giving the unclean spirits permission to enter the unclean herd of swine, and more to do with Jesus’ focus on the man himself and the liberation of his enslaved soul.
Jesus’ power to restore this man to his full humanity was inextricably connected to Jesus’ own humanity. The fully-human Jesus met the physically and spiritually-broken human being right where he was, just as he was. The power of the exorcism was the shared humanity between Jesus and the man. Through this shared humanity, Jesus reached into the depths of the man’s soul to liberate his true identity as the child of God that he was.
The next time we see the man in the story, he was fully restored, clothed and in his right mind, as he sat at the feet of Jesus, with a heart yearning to be with him. Jesus’ miraculous healing of the man—a man who was once living amongst the dead, and who was now reconciled with the living in his city, was embraced and the people rejoiced! Well, not quite.
The swineherds, who were eyewitnesses to the healing, and who might have been able to testify to the great work that was done in the man, did not rejoice. Saving the man resulted in a catastrophic loss for the swineherds and economic hardship for the community. Instead of the people drawing close to Jesus, they were struck with great fear. Perhaps they, too, in the presence of Jesus, shouted as the demon-possessed man did, “What have you to do with us, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? We beg you, do not torment us!” The healing, which saved this one man from sure death, was all too inconvenient and all too costly for the people. In the end, Jesus, sent the fully-restored man back to his Gentile community to testify about what God, in the human person of Jesus, did for him.
I am reminded of an encounter I had with a patient experiencing psychosis due to a reaction to her pain medicine after surgery. No one could calm her down. The crowd of nurses and security only escalated her fear and violent behavior. Her constant refrain was, “I’m not crazy. Something doesn’t feel right inside of me.” When I engaged this woman, she fixed her eyes on me, and with such clarity and conviction, she asked me, “Are you a woman of God?” I answered, with that same conviction and clarity, “Yes, I am a woman of God.”
Even when she was not in her right mind, this woman’s soul remembered God and cried out for God’s presence. Through our shared humanity, this woman and I were able to recognize the presence of God in each other, as we prayed our way through her crisis. The next day, I visited the woman. She didn’t remember her behavior, only what had been told to her by the staff. What she did remember was that she had been afraid for her life, that we prayed together, and that God, in the human person of a chaplain, showed up for her.
In a world where the impact of man-made tragedies assault not only the human body, but the individual and collective, human soul, we as followers of Jesus, we must go into the modern-day tombs of society to seek the living among the dead; to seek the sliver of humanity that cries out for liberation from the modern-day Legions of unclean spirits that enslave humankind in myriad forms.
In our darkest times, Jesus shows up, and draws near to us. In our shared humanity with him we remember that we belong to God and that we are children of God. To be Christ-like is to be more fully human—not humankind as we experience ourselves today, but humanity as God created us to be—the image of God himself—the image of love.
When Jesus draws near, we ask not, “What have you to do with me, Jesus,” but we boldly state, “Do what you will with me, Jesus.”
May we be willing instruments for God’s healing and restoration so that all may be reconciled to God, our Father, who art in heaven, when His kingdom comes, and when his will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.