It’s hard to find something coherent and witty to begin this process this week. Hard to focus on one thing, getting this bible study reflection done so that I can then turn to putting the pieces of a sermon together. There are too many distractions, too many happenings, too many responsibilities begging for attention. Calling for notice. The crazy dogs really want to take a nap, but the nice weather means the windows are open so they hear voices - real and imagined - and they have to comment on all of them. Loudly and repeatedly, they give their opinion of walkers and bikers and - worst of all - walkers of other dogs.
They are such good participants in a commentary culture. The problem is I don’t know what they’re saying. Which is typical, come to think of it. An event that ought to bring a common spirit of sorrow and mourning, instead flares up in our differences, plays on our fears. All those deaths in Orlando, we need someone to blame so that we can rest easy in our prejudices. Radical Islam, assault weapons, aberrant lifestyles, homophobia, the Republican recalcitrance, the Democrat weakness, the wrath of God, the consequence of a platform of hate and fear ... We are legion, say the demons that reside on our souls.
That escalated quickly. As things are wont to do these days. Escalate I mean. It gets to the point where one is hesitant to make a comment, give an opinion, for fear that it will get you labeled and attacked by the other side, because there is always another side. Many sides, many nuances of opinion, of belief, of conviction or even of fear. We are pulled in so many directions and running and hiding seems the only reasonable choice. Not even realizing that we choose a place of death, instead of way of living, we hide among the tombs of what was, of our dreams and hopes perhaps, or our nostalgia, or our prejudices and hatreds.
Wait a minute. That’s not me. That’s not us. You’ve been reading Luke too much. Listening to those stories and thinking that they are about you. When you keep telling us they aren’t, they are about Him. Luke set out not to write our story, but to write His. When we try to make it about us then we twist the meaning, or apply it too directly, too specifically. These are supposed to be stories of reassurance, reminding us that the One we follow is able. Able to overcome any storm. Able to heal any infirmity. Able to transform any failing into wholeness. This is all about Him.
Yes. True. It is. It’s about Him. About Him and us. Sorry if that sounds like changing the rules. But it’s not my fault. Blame it on the demons.
Luke 8:26-39 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 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. 28 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"-- 29 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.) 30 Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" He said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. 32 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. 33 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. 34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 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. 36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 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. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 "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.
Why is it that sometimes Jesus asks obvious questions (like to blind Bartimaeus “What do you want me to do for you? Mark 10) And sometimes he just acts? “What have you to do with me, Jesus?” This question was asked after Jesus started to work. That’s kind of curious, don’t you think? The demons knew who he was, what he could do, and indeed he had already spoken, told them to come out. But they played dumb, it sounds like. “What have you to do with us?” Are you talking to me? They recognize Him, but they don’t really want to obey Him. They want to argue with him. Negotiate. You don’t really want me to go, do you? You aren’t really driving me out. This guy likes me. We get along well, sure he’s naked and living in a cemetery, but it’s a life, you know? It makes some odd kind of sense.
No, it doesn’t. Maybe to a demon it makes sense. Living with brokenness, living with hatred, living in fear, doesn’t make any sense. Not to Jesus. He didn’t ask any questions at first, just was trying to get rid of the problem. Until the negotiation started. It’s almost like Jesus was prepared to take care of it until the guy chimed in. Jesus knows what we need, but is always willing to let us self determine, even if our choices make things worse. Jesus was going to send them out, they chose to ride the pigs.
I know, I don’t want to go too far with this metaphor. Demons can be a slippery subject for any of us. But it is somewhat ironic that the legion asks for a ride on the pigs instead of being sent to the abyss. Except as soon as they get on the pigs, they end up in the abyss. The very thing they wanted to avoid becomes their fate. Their self-determined fate. And Jesus lets them. Because they asked. Just like Jesus left because the villagers asked. He doesn’t put up a fuss, He doesn’t argue that he could do even more good given the chance, he just goes.
How many times with anger or even with kindness have we said, no thanks Jesus, I’ve got this. I’ll handle my own stuff. I’ll ride my own pigs, wherever they may take me. It was fear that caused them to send Him away. Luke says coming and finding the one they knew to be crazy now clothed and in his right mind scared them. It was a change that unsettled them. If the crazy ones start sounding sane then by what do I measure my own sanity? They’d grown used to him being there on the edge of town, shouting in the darkness. He was useful for keeping the children in line. Behave, or we’ll give you to the guy in the cemetery! Now he was just like you and me. The enemy, the other, they are us. That’s kind of scary. So, they got to together and stirred up their fears and all went to Jesus and asked him to leave. So they could build a wall. So they could stop immigration. So they could be safe, be great again.
What do you have to do with me, Jesus? That’s our question too. What changes will you effect in our lives? What growth will you seek? What effort will you require? Require? No, the effort we expend isn’t the result of a demand. Jesus doesn’t come and say get to work or else. No, He just loves us into wanting to work. What have you to do with me becomes a man who begged to be with Him. Did you catch that? That fear that pushes away becomes a love that desires to move closer. He wanted to be with Him, now clothed and in his right mind all he could think to do was to stay with Jesus.
He didn’t stay with Him. At least not in the way he probably imagined when he made his request. Instead, like us, he stayed with Jesus by telling his story to everyone he met. He chose, having been rescued from a life of despair, to live a life of hope and of joy, sharing the love of Jesus with all that he encountered.
Much better than riding a pig