Just before today’s Gospel Jesus had been teaching the crowds on the west side of the Sea of Galilee. He decides to set out for the east side of the Lake. On the way there is that terrible storm that Jesus calms with his word. His disciples, in exhausted terror exclaim, “Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him!”
So they arrive in this country of the Gerasenes, opposite Galilee, in pagan Gentile territory and encounter this terribly demon possessed man.
Now when I encounter troubled people, demonic possession is not my go-to hypothesis. How about you? I think, anger issues, mental illness, intoxication, not demons.
But that is my flaw, not scripture’s flaw, yes? I need to learn about this reality. Scripture teaches us that there is a real spiritual realm that interacts with our own. It includes the messengers, angels, of God, whose presence and help we welcome but there are also the messengers, angels, of the enemy, whose reality we ignore at our peril.
Anyway, the evil spirits recognize who Jesus is right away. They answer the disciples’ question, “Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him!” With “This is Jesus, Son of the Most High God!” These destructive spirits recognize who Jesus is with complete clarity but with fear and hatred rather than joy.
I am puzzled by the discussion Jesus has with the demonic legion, negotiating where they are to go. He never does this any other time; he just expels them, presumably to the abyss. Perhaps it is because he is on pagan territory where spirits of all kinds are invoked all the time?
In any event, he consents to send them into the pigs, who rush down the steep bank into the lake that Jesus and his disciples have just crossed.
Why? I have no idea. It seems very hard on the innocent bystanders to lose a fortune. They might think it better to have left the legion in the one man?
I have seen suggestions that this is a sort of Jewish folktale attached to Jesus, getting the better of pagan pig eating gentiles. Others suggest that the demoniac’s ravings frightened the pigs and they stampeded. But that isn’t what Scripture says, is it, and I find that if I explain away the parts of scripture I don’t like or don’t understand, I close my ears to God’s word. So I think I am going to have to sit with this matter of the pigs for a while longer.
Anyway, the people of that city witnessed an extraordinary display of divine saving power that day that really caused an uproar and they decided that once was enough. They urged Jesus to go away. And this is, I think, very common. Psalm 39:13 says to God, “Turn your gaze from me, that I may be glad again, before I go my way and am no more.” Sometimes we want Jesus to keep his distance, because we know that as wonderful as his presence is, he will turn our world upside down – and we may like it pretty well just as it is. Dear Lord, come close but not too close?
As is so often the case with scripture, the kicker comes as the end. The man Jesus has rescued wants to follow him. After all, Jesus has just turned his world right side up.
Jesus says no. Jesus often says no to volunteers and then urgently calls those who were minding their own business.
Rather he says, Go home and declare how much God has done for you.
What does the man do? He goes proclaiming how much Jesus has done for him.
He understands, just as clearly as the legion who possessed him did, who this is, that even the wind and the sea and the demons obey him. He understands that Jesus is the Son of the Living God, doing the works of the Father. As our Trinitarian doctrine teaches us, Jesus is now one of God’s names.
As I thought about this, I thought about our four fellow parishioners who have answered Christ’s call to follow him into ordained ministry. That is an astonishing act of grace for them and for us as a church to share in raising them up, forming them and sending them and we rightly celebrate that.
Yet I wonder whether we neglect the far larger number to whom Jesus says, “Go home and declare how much God has done for you.” This calling is as real, as important and as transformative as “come, follow me.” Or to put it another way, The one who goes home and tells what Jesus has done is following Jesus just as truly as the one who leaves everything behind. In fact, isn’t it the work of the parish church to deliver us from the evils that possess us, show us the wonder of Jesus Christ, Son of God, savior, and then send us home to family, work and community to declare how much God has done for us? And as church to celebrate each and every one of us who does that?
So let me ask you some questions.
What spiritual messengers are you dealing with and how do you recognize those who are from God and those who are not?
How do you grapple with the whispered temptations of daily life? How about the temptations that at least some of the time seem to dominate your thinking and even your acting?
How do you experience the power of God to deliver you?
How do you grapple with scripture that seems to you odd or repugnant?
What do you do when you wish God would go away and leave you alone?
How do you proclaim, within the framework of your daily life, all that Jesus has done for you?
Let us pray.
Almighty and merciful God, in your goodness keep us, we pray, from all things that may hurt us, that we, being ready both in mind and body, may accomplish with free hearts those things which belong to your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN