Luke 8:26-39: Jesus and his disciples arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me” — for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?”
He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.
So he got into the boat and returned. 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.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts be always acceptable to you, o Lord, our rock and our redeemer…
So, I have sat with this Gospel passage for the week, and I have to admit, it’s a lot. There’s a lot going on here. Jesus is traveling, doing his ministry, and he’s taken a boat across the water from Galilee, and he is here in the country of the Gerasenes, and then, as he’s stepping out onto the land, he’s accosted by a man with demons in him. And not just one, many demons.
I mean, whew, that’s just a lot right there. Imagine being behind Jesus as one of the disciples and this is what greets you. This is, to put it in context, right after the storm when they are shouting at Jesus to wake up, that they are dying, and he wakes and calms the storms. So this is like a lot to take in.
They’ve almost died on the water, and now they are being met by demons, they’re met by this guy who when asked his name, he goes Legion, probably in a scary horror movie voice. And what does Jesus do? What he always does, he casts the demons out into some pigs, and the herd of pigs goes running off. Crazy, right?
So, that’s a lot to talk about. And we could go the safe route and have a nice talk about how Jesus is so powerful and all mighty that he can cast demons out of people. I mean, that makes sense, that’s probably where the disciples went. They were probably talking later amongst themselves about the things they’ve seen him do. Oh my goodness, he calms the waters and exorcises demons! This is no ordinary man we’re following. And that’s all well and good. Jesus will heal you, all will be well, thank you Jesus.
But, the problem with that sermon is that I don’t think it encapsulates the most important part of this story. Which is crazy, because this story has a legion of demons getting put into pigs, and I’m telling you oh, don’t pay attention to that part, it’s not really the point.
Because what I think is so important about this is not what Jesus says to this man, but where Jesus went to find him.
So, let’s talk a little about this situation for a second. The disciples have followed Jesus onto a boat, after he tells them, hey, I feel like going over to the other side, through a storm, and they land in the country of the Gerasenes. And this is significant to this passage because this land is not the comfortable, predominately Jewish area of Galilee where at least Jesus and the disciples would be among their own people. This is Gentile territory, not a place a Jewish rabbi would normally venture.
And there, the first person he finds, is a man who is filled with unclean spirits. Now, we can debate all we want about what that really means to our modern minds, and most of us would probably jump to mental illness, but put the medical designation aside for a second and just think of the fact that this man has been deemed unclean, not just physically sick or mentally disturbed, but he is religiously unclean.
And this man, being in the state he is, would not be allowed to live in the city like a normal citizen, but would be pushed outside the walls, and as it is stated, chained up, like an animal.
This is where our itinerant Jewish rabbi proclaiming the kingdom of God goes, to an unclean land to meet an unclean man living in an unclean place. In short, the very last place Jesus should be.
Probably the very last place any of us would want to be. But this, dear friends, is exactly the point.
There is absolutely nowhere God is not willing to go to reach and free and sustain and heal and love those who are broken and lost and despairing. There is no place on the face of this earth that is Godforsaken. There is no person that is God-forsaken. Unclean, outcast, abandoned, unpopular, incarcerated, unbeliever. No one is left out.
We do not get to leave anyone out. They are all our brothers and sisters.
And that is the hardest thing we will ever have to square with to be Christian. Because these are not the places, not the people, we want to associate with. But they are the places that need us the most.
As Keith stated last week, we are embarking on a journey with our partnership with Indwell, in which we hope to make real and lasting changes to the lives of people in need of a helping hand in London, but not only that, to make a real and lasting change in the landscape of poverty in our community. To strike out at the cause of disparity and need rather than placing Band-Aids on the wounds.
This is the work we are called to, not to hand out scraps on the sidelines, but to shine a light into the darkness, to be the hands and feet of Christ where they are needed most.
We had our training day on how to use Naloxone for overdoses just recently, and as we were being asked what the cause of the spike in opioid drug use was, there were a lot of good answers, but just like what we’re doing with Indwell, it’s not about the symptoms, it’s about the root cause.
It’s very easy to encounter the drug user and see the unclean man, and maybe we too like the people of that city would just be afraid, would just want him to be under control. Trust me, I get those feelings. But the thing is, no matter what we say about addiction disease and gateway drugs, at the heart of it is this: prescriptions and weed are not the gateway drugs. Poverty is, and trauma, and neglect and abuse. Being labelled unclean is the gateway.
What we need in this is not better chains, but more hope, more healing, more love. Unclean spirits do not go away because we push them further to the margins, but because we expose them to the light.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, there are no conditions to be met to receive God’s love. God loves all, and commands us to do the same. And this is not easy work we are being called to, but I ask you this. In this unclean world full of unclean spirits, where are we willing to go? How much are we willing to give? And who are we willing to love?
Rev. Hana Scorrar