Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 12 Reflection
The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “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. Luke 8:38-39
A whole bunch of demons and pigs, a crowd of fearful citizens, a grateful man relieved of his evil burden, and Jesus all get together in this week’s gospel to make a painful point. When the goodness of God manifested in Jesus upsets the balance of dis-ease and dysfunction in the world, folks get really uncomfortable. The balance tips and the status quo is threatened, leaving the “change-maker” to be blamed. Ah, yes! As much as we claim to like, need, and want change, it can be mighty tough to swallow.
The Gerasene demoniac had multiple roles to play in that particular dysfunctional system– the unclean one, the scapegoat, and personification of all that was not right in the world. In him, evil had a face (if no name), and it lived on the outskirts of polite society, thus limiting its threat to the order of life. But then Jesus, as our Lord is wont to do, arrives on the scene bringing hope and healing for the marginalized and challenging the established order with its system of rules and roles.
A legion of demons! Poor guy–six thousand bad reasons stand between him and wholeness, between life outside the margins and inclusion and acceptance, between loathing and love. While on the surface it sounds positively awful and beyond the possibility of modern experience, the reality is that he’s not all that different from us today. Think of the many “demons” that stand between humankind and a right relationship with God. Myriad excuses, rationales, and reasons keep plenty of us imprisoned and excluded from real health and meaningful relationships.
Perhaps the one striking difference is that the demons of Geraza recognize the power of God and beg not to be sent back into the abyss. They ask instead to be allowed to enter a large herd of pigs. Jesus grants their request, and the possessed piggies gallop-a-trot right down the bank and into the river, plunging to their watery grave. The average Jewish citizen should be happy, right? No more evil demons, no more unclean pigs, problems solved. Instead their response is fear.
The apple cart has been upset. Their world is turned upside down. The demon dude is sitting at the feet of Jesus, cleaned up, appropriately attired, and learning from the master. Oh, this is not good at all! Add to the mix some angry swineherds who have lost their livelihood, and you have a recipe for revolt.
Mission accomplished, Jesus gets back into the boat and heads on out to stir up more of the status quo, to free the captive, and unbind the fettered. Thank goodness for us, he’s still at work doing the same thing today through, in, and with the body of Christ–the church.
So I suppose a lot of what one does with this story depends on one’s point of view. What demons in your life or context need to be cast out? Will loosing them into the unclean and outmoded carcasses of our faded traditions and outdated institutions cause chaos and earn us our walking papers? Or, are we the ones bound by fear who try to run out the very One who comes to save us? Perhaps we are the demoniac set free to sit at the feet of Jesus, to be equipped and shaped to return to our homes, our congregations, and our communities to tell everyone what God has done.
Yes, many are the demons, but there is only one Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Thanks be to God, and blessings on your preaching and teaching.
Consider choosing a hymn that speaks to Christian unity. If you are preaching on the Galatians text, you might even weave the verses of the hymn into your sermon. Remind the congregation that although we are all different in many ways, we have many more similarities. Best of all, we are all baptized in water, claimed by Christ, marked with the sign of the cross, and “heirs according to the promise.” Invite the congregation to find ways to promote unity in the midst of diversity. If your congregation does not appear to be very diverse on the surface, explore how they be diverse in unexpected ways and how the gifts of the diversity make it possible to be more strongly one in Christ.
Name the Demons: Consider the story of the Gerasene demoniac who was possessed by a “legion” of demons. Ask youth to “name” the demons that can separate us from Christ and from each other today. Consider making a collage using text and magazine cut-outs. Once the demons have been named and imaged, talk with the youth about how they lose their power in the face of Christ’s love and mercy. We are called to sit at Jesus’ feet, to learn, to follow, and to be filled with the good things of God so that we can share the good news with others.
Pulling Weeds: Talk to the children about why it is important in gardening to thin the plants and pull the weeds. Without doing this the healthy plants cannot grow well. A too-crowded garden leads to sickly plants, disease, and little or no production of fruit. In the Old Testament reading from Isaiah this morning, God is frustrated with the “overrun garden of Israel” and how the people are acting more like weeds–choking out the healthy plants that want to bear fruit. Even though the garden is in pretty poor shape, God is determined not to plow under the entire garden, but rather lovingly to salvage the plants that can bear fruit and give them the opportunity to grow. God’s garden will always bear fruit, because God is the master gardener who knows how to feed, pluck, transplant, and prune for maximum yield. Thanks be to God, we are able to be fruitful and feed the hungry world!