What do you think of when I say, Rod Blagojevich? I think, ex-governor, scandal, and, haircut! By now, everyone has some impression. When you not only make it onto the late night talk show host’s joke list, but actually make it on the show as a guest, then you know you are a household name across the country.
But I don’t want to discuss whether or not our Blago is guilty of “pay-to-play”, but how he has become the perfect scapegoat for all our frustrations and failures. He is a fine target, and a perfect receptacle, for all our angst, anger and fear, over our budget problems, our polarization of politics, and our inability to order and re-order our rapidly changing society.
As a scapegoat, what we’re able to do is, blame Mr. Blagojevich, for corruption in the system, which gives us satisfaction we have addressed the problem. We can dump it all on him, we can laugh at him, we can convict him in the headlines we read every day, but the fundamental problems persist. Truth be told, that makes us co-conspirators in the dysfunction, and constipates the solution that could bring us the healing we so desperately need.
I don’t bring this up just because it’s in the news, but because it helps us to understand our gospel – believe it or not. The possessed man that Jesus heals across the Sea of Galilee in Gentile territory, is famous there, in his neck of the woods, too. Legion, as he calls himself, doesn’t have a famous haircut. He’s known as, the naked guy, who used to live in town, until he started acting crazy. He goes around without clothes in the wilds, so that they used to chain him in the local graveyard down by the Sea of Galilee, and the pig farms, until he regularly broke out of them again, and the game started all over. So, even though there were no talk shows, he was the talk of the town! He was known as, a holy terror and a blight on the neighborhood. And so was the collective embodiment of their shame and sin, a kind of monument, which they had no intention of tearing down! I’m not saying he was the same as Rod Blagojevich, but, I do mean to suggest that there is a similarity in the way the Gerasene townspeople made him the scapegoat of all their problems.
It is tempting to read this story as simply the healing of a sick man. Jesus goes to a foreign territory, and is confronted by a demon possessed man. We already know that it’s in Jesus nature to heal, and so, as expected, Jesus commands the unclean spirit to come out of him. The Legion of demons beg Jesus not to be sent back into the abyss, but to go into the large herd of swine. Jesus gives them permission, and when they do, the pigs go crazy, and run off a steep bank into the lake, to drown. The man is healed and found to be “in his right mind”, at Jesus feet, the pose of a disciple.
But it is just this kind of simple reading, I think, that can so easily turn off the modern reader to the gospel story’s power. Jesus is not just an ancient physician who’s been replaced by modern medicine. Jesus is not simply a teacher of morality and social worker. But the gospel goes wider and deeper, to reveal Jesus, the “Son of the most High God”. One of the key words for our interpretation is “healed”. “Those who had seen it, told [everyone else] how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed,” it says. But “healed” can also mean, “saved”. He was saved, in addition to being healed! But saved from what? Saved from a life of being shackled, on the one hand, and saved from being the convenient scapegoat, from being the towns’ dumping ground for all their problems, on the other hand. Jesus changes the demonic system we live in, and saves us (from it).
But being saved injects a new dynamic, a new reality, into the community, which is why the people are initially fearful after Jesus takes away their scapegoat. Now their corrupt system has been exposed. They must either find another scapegoat to hide their sins and perpetuate the system of demons, or respond to the gospel, and begin to take responsibility for their problems, themselves. The good news will set you free, but first it will make you miserable! You can imagine, it’s not going to be particularly easy for the man who had been possessed by demons, to go back home and live with his neighbors. Nor is it going to be easy for the townspeople to accept him, and face up to their complicity in the system of corruption.
The same is true for us! We live in a Blagojevich system, in which it’s easier to blame ‘the man’ than it is to take responsibility for our healing. But notice, Jesus doesn’t just send the evil spirits back to the abyss where they can repossess another scapegoat, but he sends them off the cliff, to their death, ending the scapegoating system itself. Jesus heals the tormented man, and the sinful system of the townspeople.
In the conclusion to the story, the healed man, found to be “in his right mind”, is in the disciple pose, at Jesus feet. He wanted desperately to stay in Jesus presence, and begged Jesus to come with him. But Jesus tells him to, “return to his home” to tell everyone “how much God has done for you.” Jesus will live in him, as he tells his story to his own community.
So, we have a simple story of healing, but also, a much more wonderful story of salvation. God is freeing both victims and perpetrators, all of us who are sinners, and throwing us all back together again into the same town to live now as free people, never to be shackled again, masters of our own kingdom! Now there’s a Juneteenth Day message for us! Or, in Paul’s words from the 2nd reading: we have become “clothed in Christ,” where, “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
So today we can end with your talk-time, just as we did last week. God has set you free. Jesus has come to break the bonds of our oppression, to end the demonic system that separates us. The way to do that, he says, is to tell our own stories, in our neighborhood – to be reconcilers in our own towns.
So, let’s practice our story now with our neighbor here.
2 minutes total. 1 minute for each person.
What has God or Jesus done for you? How have you been freed up? What do you want to tell others in our neighborhood and town?