Readings: Luke 8:26-39
Luk 8:27 When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. Luk 8:28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!”
I wonder how you would have felt doing some pastoral visiting at this man’s place.
It’s not exactly welcoming.
The average church pastoral team would rather call a medical emergency line. Or simply dial 111. Or 999, depending where you live.
It’s a cemetery for one thing.
My first church posting as a pastor alone was in a town where the church met in a national monument made of stone strategically placed between two cemeteries. There was no power – the organ ran on a petrol generator.
In time we moved out to a local school, and after I moved on they built a church building.
We never did have evening services between those two cemeteries.
This man –
• He lived amongst the dead
• He was in chains
• He was naked
And I’m sure people were comfortable that he stayed there – that he didn’t wander into town at night.
Trust Jesus to show up there. He’s had a nap on the boat ride over. Just by the way – the sea of Galilee is an inland lake 166 square kms (for kiwis, Taupo is 616 square kms.) It was a bumpy ride in a fierce storm.
He’s had his followers accusing him of not caring that they might drown.
He’s calmed the squall – we love that story because we’d all like our storms in life stilled – we all want peace.
And now he encounters this! With all its potential for violence and plenty of drama.
This was not Jewish territory. The pigs give that away.
The man was unwell by any standards – and there were no psychiatrists back in the day. In today’s medical terms he would probably be classified as mentally ill. And institutionalized because he was a risk to others and himself. Possibly Psychotic at the least. Not to speak of the terrible loneliness and isolation. And self-harm and ferocity.
The encounter with Jesus is also intriguing. Why is he so afraid of Jesus tormenting him? Okay perhaps it’s the demon voices speaking – if you are a strict literalist. On the other hand, it could also be symptomatic of a real desire of this sick man not to face reality. Perhaps it’s all too hard for him.
Someone has suggested that strangers would be kinder to us if we are seriously ill – because they would have no special concern for us and would try to make us feel good.
Those who love us, on the other hand, would ask the hard questions and want us to face real change.
I take the demonic in scripture very seriously – but not all the people Jesus healed were demonized. It’s more complex than that.
Whatever the cause of this man’s oppression, he would have been terrified of change. His home among the dead was at least predicable in some way. And he would hardly have been welcome in so called normal society. The prejudice is just as real today if we are off the spectrum in terms of our mental health.
The truth is that most of us are at best ambivalent about dealing with radical change in our lives.
Jesus addresses these demons – the Legion. They don’t want to go into the Abyss – a unique word in Luke it seems – the place of the dead perhaps, the deep (Psalm 107:26 cf. Romans 10:7) – or an equivalent of hell or hades (Luke 16:23). (cf. Rev 9:11 and Jude 1:6).
It’s a troubling thing for the locals that the demons ask for permission to go into the pigs.
2000 pigs according to Mark. At $50 each conservatively that’s $100 000 worth of disruption for the locals.
What a story to share with your neighbours. The grapevine would have been red hot.
WHAT ABOUT US?
• There are degrees of brokenness. But we are all broken.
• There are degrees of sickness.
• But we are all vulnerable.
No matter who we are – we are part of this broken world.
And there are plenty of people out there tormented by oppression, mental illnesses, addictions, loneliness and despair.
At a very basic level this story gives hope – and disturbs people all at once.
Luk 8:34 When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, Luk 8:35 and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.
The naked mad one is doing what we all need to do – sitting at Jesus’ feet. Doing the Mary thing (which Martha struggled with if you remember).
And he’s dressed.
And in his right mind.
And the people are afraid! And rightly so – if Jesus can do this – perhaps they thought – what then could he do in my life? Do I want that?
Do you want that? Radical transformation? or would you prefer respectable Christianity – tamed religion.
The locals didn’t want it. Look at verse 37: Luk 8:37 Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.
But the story does end with such a positive statement:
Luk 8:38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, Luk 8:39 “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him. Note the shift from God to Jesus.
When we meet with Jesus ourselves – we too can’t stay on a high as it were. On the mountain top – or in the boat after the storm.
We have to go home and tell others about it.
He does it: So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.
We missed verse 36: Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured.
There’s the key. The word cured also means healed and saved, liberated. We need that too. How much Jesus had done indeed.
Marvelous. Brilliant. Wonderful. Stunning. Fantastic. Miraculous.
Praise God for His grace. He still sets people free today.