"Carrying Demons," Pastor Kinsey
By healing the one man who had demons, Jesus heals the entirety of the city and country of the Gerasenes,.
When Jesus arrives there, he doesn’t go to the town doctor or Surgeon General to consult about healing. He doesn’t go to the local magistrate or to visit the Roman shrines of worship. Jesus meets the man who has a legion of demons, and immediately ‘commands the unclean spirit to come out of the man.’ It sounds like a chance encounter, but as we listen to the detailed account of the healing, it is revealed how the people of Gerasene all play a part in this man’s condition!
“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.”
If you remember the story just before this, you kind of have to laugh! Jesus has just come from calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee, so that the boat he’s in with the 12 Disciples doesn’t capsize in the wind and raging waves. And after saving them, what’s the response of the 12? ‘They were afraid…’ whispering to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”
The Disciples, who have been with Jesus for some time, still aren’t sure who he is! But, when the man with the demons first meets Jesus, immediately he recognizes Jesus as the Son of God!
So, it is the demons who possess the man who understand how he has power over them. “What is your name,” Jesus asks the man living in the tombs? “Legion,” he says; for many demons were possessing him. In fact, a Roman legion was 5-6,000 soldiers. And they begged Jesus not to order them to go back to the abyss, where they came from, and would be powerless once again. And they quickly – and they think cleverly – suggest that Jesus let them go into the large herd of unclean pigs on the hillside nearby, so it would at least preserve them in some material way, to continue to reside in this world. But perhaps they should have been suspicious when Jesus so easily agrees, and gives the legion of demons permission to do so.
For, what could be more satisfying to the first Jewish-Christian readers of Luke’s story than to hear that the whole herd of un-kosher swine, rushed down the steep bank, off the edge of the cliff, and into the Sea of Galilee, and were drowned! Though to us Gentiles, that’s just a lot of wasted bacon!
But what’s obvious to all, was that the problem was solved! A legion of demons is destroyed; the man is de-possessed and healed. And Jesus has demonstrated his powers as the Son of God. It’s all good!
But, that’s not the end of the story! Something more is going on, something beyond, the miracle of healing. For now there are three groups of Gerasenes, in ever increasing numbers, that come to interact with, and question Jesus. For them, it’s not over! These are the people who have consented, and even ordered that the man be bound with chains and shackles, and kept under guard. And their apple cart has been upset!
First, the herders of the swine, who witnessed the exorcism and the stampede of their pigs into the lake – they ran off to tell it everywhere, both in the city and the country. They are part of the outrage the people have for what Jesus did.
Then there was a faction of all those people who heard the news, who raced back to the cemetery, knowing full well who the man was that lived there. And when they arrived, they saw him, but ‘he was in his right mind,’ as Luke says. And he was clothed for the first time, since he began carrying all the demons in him.
And their reaction to seeing him like this, gives the biggest clue to understanding this second part of this incredible story. As they recognize the man now healed and sitting at the feet of Jesus, “they were afraid!” Shouldn’t they be joyful? Elated? Pleased and amazed? But no! Feeling something like the 12 Disciples sitting in their boat on the calmed sea, they are afraid.
Then, thirdly, ‘all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes’ show up, and the second group tells them the whole story of how the man who had been possessed by demons had been healed. And the 3rd group, all the people, ask Jesus to leave them; ‘for they were seized with great fear!’ it says.
For me, it helps to have at least a working knowledge of Family Systems Theory, to understand this reaction of the people. The recognizable order of their lives had been completely over-turned. The Gerasenes, one big happy family, was ordered and held together, by agreeing to cast all their inter-personal issues, their failings and unresolved conflicts – that is, their sins – onto the one man living in the cemetery, so that they could go on with their day to day lives. That’s how the system worked, and kept everything in balance. Except of course, the life of the one man who had to carry all the anxieties and demons of the Gerasenes. His life was ruined. He was the scapegoat that was sacrificed for the rest of the people of the town and country.
So when Jesus comes and heals the one man who had the legion of demons, he released the entirety of the region of the Gerasenes from their bondage. He had to change the system, in order to do it. Jesus casts out the unhealthy system, and points them in the direction of the God-given system, or, a new life in Christ.
But, where will the Gerasenes cast their sins now? Will they choose a new scapegoat, as so many of us are tempted to do?
When the man healed of his demons asks Jesus, to ‘be with him’ – to be one of his followers – Jesus understands why, but he has a different vision for him. Jesus already has all the followers he needs for his mission to spread the good news. What he needs the healed man to do is to ‘return to his home, to the Gerasenes, and declare how much God has done for him,’ as Luke says. Jesus needs him there, in Gentile territory across the Sea of Galilee. The Christian mission begins with healing relationships, wherever we are, in our home towns.
How would you feel if Jesus asked you to do that? To take responsibility for a life of forgiveness, for yourself, and others? Might we reply, “What have you to do with me Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” How do we feel when we are tasked with Christ’s message of healing and salvation?
Even for ‘the man from whom the demons had gone,’ it seems at first glance, like a daunting task. But isn’t this exactly the mission we are on as the baptized people of God? We are the forgiven ones, who have died and risen with Christ. Now we are tasked with taking responsibility for our own newly-gifted lives. We can no longer hold on to the excuses we once harbored, or claim that we are not responsible for our failures and sins. Though we are sinners – we are now forgiven! And this is the beginning of the healing of the world. The beginning of a life of non-retaliation. The beginning of loving your neighbor as yourself.
‘The man from whom the demons had gone, now in his right mind’ was clearly a new man. Though not easy, he knew what he had to do. At home, with the Gerasenes, he had to forgive, even if he couldn’t forget. He needed to invite those who had demonized him, to live a new life, one that took responsibility for themselves. He would invite them into the baptized life of Christ, and to love their neighbors – but first to love themselves, the selves that God had given them in their new life of baptism.
Who do we chase our demons onto, that we need to repent of? Not too long ago it was fashionable to heap them on to those who identified as lgbtq, and before that women and people of color were scapegoated as second class citizens. Our President is hell-bent on demonizing immigrants and locking them up in detention centers. Sometimes it’s just the weakest one at the office, or living on our block. Anyone who can make all the rest of us feel better, and help us get through the day.
But Jesus died that we might be cured of our sinful scapegoating, that we might accept ourselves as we are, and then rise up with him to discover the new life that is a mission of healing and loving – and never ends!
Let us, return to our homes, and declare how much God has done for us. That the entire system we live in, may be healed and made whole. Amen.