Jesus Heals the Gerasene Demoniac
26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes,[a] 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[b] 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[c] 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[d] begged Jesus[e] 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[f]asked Jesus[g] 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[h] 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.
When I was teaching we would go to professional development that was hosted by outside agencies. Most of the time the conferences were pretty good and it was better than just sitting around in the school for in-service days. Yet there was always something a little un-nerving that occurred when you walked in and after you confirmed your registration they made you fill out a “Hello My Name Is” nametag. If it was professionally that was one thing, but right your name, now this was going to be interesting. This meant that at some point in the sessions you were going to have to do icebreakers. I hate icebreakers, you know the little games where you get to know the people around you and where they are from and what they do blah, blah, blah, blah.
The reality is that you will probably never see these people again. I’m fine with just looking at a name tag and saying there name to discuss something to help tap into another level of learning and then be done with it at the end of the day. But for some people that’s super important to get to know who they are, the number of children they have birthed, and what their favorite kind of ice cream is. The worst place for this now in my life is Highlands camp. VBS training…
Yet, in all my complaining, God reminds us that we need to be able to really know our neighbors. We need to know what is going on in their lives and if we can help, to do so, but at the very least be able to listen and encourage those among us. Because when the shoe is on the other foot, it sure is nice to have someone listen to us. We know many times that there is nothing immediately that can be done, but it makes us feel better even if all we do is talk about it. The two stories in our lectionary today are wonderful stories in which God cares for the prophet Elijah and then Jesus cares for the man possessed by evil spirits.
Now there is an interesting event that has occurred because of the calendar and the lectionary. Because Easter can be early or late in the year the lectionary begins in what we can Ordinary time with the earliest date it can. We feel like this first week of Ordinary time puts us in the middle of the story and it does. Let me catch you up, sort of like the line—in previous episodes from our favorite TV shows…
Now Elijah is on the lamb and he is running for his life. There is nothing left for he has become a man with a price on his head. Just like Jonah did, he asks God to take his life because it is worth noting and he is going to have to live in fear the rest of his life. He runs as long as he can and he stops and sleeps and birds, ravens/angels bring him food and drink. He sleeps some more and then they bring him more food. The voice of the Lord speaks, the high dollar word theophany says, “What are you doing here Elijah?” God knows him by name and clearly wants to know why he is in the middle of the wilderness or for us out in the middle of the prairie? Elijah pulls no punches and tells God I have done all I you wanted me to do. He believes that because of his actions God should be caring for him and he should be a hero, not a man being hounded by Jezebel.
How much is that like us? When we do good, we want a reward, not for life to go the same or in this instance life has become worse. It’s like “I did all you wanted and this is how you repay me Lord.” But this is real life. We are not a child at the doctor’s office who just got a shot and now we get a sucker. This is reality, just because we are helpful to our neighbor does not mean that all our issues in life will go away with the wave of a magic wand. This life can be cruel, but that doesn’t mean we go into self-preservation mode and shut down.
God tells Elijah to go outside from the cave. Wind, fire and earthquake pass by and then in the silence God speaks again to Elijah, “What are you doing here?” Just as God passed by Moses when he received the Law now Elijah has heard God speak. Elijah has cried out to God and now God has answered and he tells him to go on to Damascus and there he will anoint a new king, someone to replace those who are after him.
Jump to our story in Luke and again we have to be reminded of the previous episode…
The country of the Gerasines. Jesus is now in Gentile country and this is very important. As he walks toward a town, he passes by the cemetery which was usually on the outskirts of town and there is a man who is possessed by evil, naked, and chained. He was not allowed to live in a house. He was kept away from other people for fear of what he might do. Jesus commanded the demon to come out of the man and it threw him back on the ground. The demon in the man cries out to Jesus and calls him “Son of the Most High God.” The demon knows exactly who Jesus is and begs to not be tormented, to not be thrown into the pit or the abyss. Jesus recognizing that this is no ordinary demon asks “what is your name?”
The response of the demon is “Legion.” Now this is really filled with symbolism. The reason this town is a Gentile town is that when the Roman army came into this region a group of Jewish people resisted and were killed by a legion that was dispatched to put down the uprising. A legion is 5000 soldiers. The demon refers to itself in this manner meaning there are several demons present maybe as many as a Roman legion. But it is also symbolic of the way that the ruling government of the time has kept people from being in their homes and they are chained to the oppression of the day. They are outsiders in their own home.
Jesus sends the demons into the pigs that are grazing on the hillside. Those who are tending the herd see the pigs run down the steep bank into the lake and drown. The man is healed. The herdsmen return to town and tell them all that has happened. A crowd gathers and they go to see what is going on. When they get to the cemetery they see the man who was possessed sitting at Jesus feet dressed, unchained, and in his right mind. Now you would think this would be a reason for a party, right? A huge celebration should be held because the man who was tormented with so much evil has now been made whole.
Instead they were afraid of Jesus and they asked him to leave. All that had been done in their little town and the guy who did it for them was asked to leave. It’s a case of the devil you know might be better than the one to come. They did not know what Jesus was going to ask from them and they would rather live in fear and hide than come and see what might be. Well surely the man who had been healed would be allowed to go with Jesus? Nope Jesus tells him to stay behind and tell what God had done. Interesting the man stays but he tells what Jesus has done, not God.
The feel-good moments in both of these stories do not come as we think they should. Elijah should be rewarded for killing all the Baal priests but instead he has to run for his life. The people should be ecstatic about what Jesus has done and they ask him to leave. The man healed should be a great disciple and would be cool to haver the 12 hang out with, but he is told to stay and tell the good news.
When we put on the name tag “Hello My Name Is” we come to realize that we all have a story to tell. It may not be something we want to share and sometimes that we don’t want to hear it. But that is not what God has in mind. God calls us to be in community with one another. God calls us to get to know each other and to be ready to sit with them and hold each other up against the burdens we bear. The rewards for doing so are also not what they would be. But there are rewards. Elijah heard God speak. The man possessed sat at the feet of Jesus and learned from him. They both moved on and were given messages of hope to share with those they encountered. Maybe a name tag isn’t quite so bad. Maybe it’s another opportunity to hear God calling to us so that we can share the message of hope and love. Amen.