A Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time (19/06/22): Healing the Gerasene Demoniac

Luke 8:26-39

Possessions, indeed any sickness or any evil, affect not only an individual but whole communities. On the face of it the Gerasene demoniac is the victim of “Legion.” It is he who is tormented to the point of nakedness. It is he who has no home except among the dead. It is he who is thrown to the ground and howls in agony. But everyone around him is affected. And like any community they have done their best. Cruel as the chains and the guard sound, they have tried their best to keep the man within human society. They have tried their best to control and manage the sickness and evil in their midst. Every society has its hospitals and its prisons to deal with illness and wickedness. Every society has more subtle means of managing what possesses them. These are the social conventions, education, all the constraints that mostly we do not notice that allow society to function and to remain stable, manageable and endurable for the largest proportion of its members. Yet evil persists. Sickness cannot be eliminated. There are not enough resources to build all the hospitals we might need. And as fast as cells could be built, there are more criminals than could fill them. No human solution to human ills succeeds without creating new sickness and possessing us with new demons.

Like the demon that possesses the Gerasene demoniac, the most persistent and pervasive lie spoken by our possession is that we, as each individual, can be free of the very constraints that managing sickness and evil places upon us. Every time chains were placed on the man, to hold him secure in the midst of his own people, whilst keeping them safe from him, the demons drove him to break his chains. The result is a counterfeit of liberation that releases him from the constraints that has community had placed upon him, but instead drives him away from them to live in the wilds and among the dead. The lie that our demons tell us is that we can be free from restraint. But as soon as we achieve that freedom we discover that community has been shattered and the companionship it offered has been lost.

Jesus steps ashore. And the demoniac cries out: “What do you have to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” Jesus always has something to say to those in the grip of evil. Jesus always has something to say to anyone under any affliction: “Be whole, be free, be saved.” We talk a great deal about salvation, and that Jesus brings it to us, but often without a clear grasp of what salvation might mean.
The Gerasene demoniac was saved. He was set free from the evil that held him captive. The balance of his mind was restored. His dignity had been returned to him, as had his place in the society to which he belonged. He has a home once more among the living. And he has adopted the posture of a disciple of Christ, sitting at Jesus feet. Salvation means this: a right relationship with Jesus, a right relationship with self, and insofar as is possible a right relationship with others.

On another occasion Jesus told a story. About a man from whom a demon was cast. But seeing that there was an “empty room” seven demons far worse than the first came and took possession of the man. This is the real contrast between what Jesus offers and the human alternatives. Without Christ, as quickly as we solve one problem, as soon as we cure one disease, as fast as we can eliminate one evil, we fall victim to another.
Jesus commissioned the man who had been possessed. He told the man to go and declare how much God had done for him. Jesus had restored the man to the purpose of every human life, the purpose of all creation, to give glory to God. With the intended purpose of human life restored in that way there is no room for evil to return!

We say “salvation” like it’s a good thing. Yet the reaction it receives is so often negative. The people of Gerasa, all the other Gerasenes who supposedly had all along been in their right minds demand that Jesus leave. He is simply too disruptive, too frightening to have around. As bad as sickness and evil are, they are at least familiar. And we generally have acquired strategies for coping with them them. Life goes on surrounded by such things and we can cope. The power of God, even for good, is much more disturbing. It cannot be contained. It certainly cannot be managed. And it has the nasty habit of changing everything we are comfortable with. In the end the Gerasenes admit, implicitly, that they prefer pigs and the profit they bring to human wholeness. Salvation may be a fine thing but it comes at a price that many people and most societies are not prepared to pay. Healings, conversions and the adoption of Christian ethics that are the result of Jesus’ confrontation with the world always have social and economic effects. They change the whole process of getting and spending. And change it in a way which plenty of people resent. No wonder Jesus gets chased away and in the end crucified. The demons which possess us and the world we live in are every bit as “legion” as those that held the Gerasene demoniac in their possession. The tentacles of evil and sickness are multiple and subtle. The mission of Jesus at first sight would appear a failure. He was sent away. Sickness and evil remain. Yet he always leaves behind the one thing that is needed: A witness. A man who has been healed by his word. A people set free by his death and resurrection. Jesus leaves behind those who declare how much he has done for them. And who then participate in the extension of his Kingdom and the destruction of all the demons that possess us.

Inspired by this sermon and by some some personal experiences a good friend and preaching colleague of mine has created a poem:

My Name was Legion

My name was Legion
I had many names.
And some called me crazy
while others called me weird.
but I was very feared.

Looking back to then,
I can understand.
For what they did not know
was that I lived in dread,
with voices in my head.

Voices in my head:
Foul things that they said,
and on my fears they fed,
attacked me in my bed.
I longed just to be dead.

Voices all the day:
Visions in the night.
Ugly loathsome creatures.
their faces filled with spite,
filled my poor soul with fright.

When He came in sight
on that day of light,
They turned away in fright
and gone was all their spite.
They could not bear His light

What was it He said
that filled them with dread?
I was no longer scared,
my sanity repaired!
I found someone who cared.

He showed me he cared.
That’s why He had dared
to come to me and heal,
and my true self reveal.

I’d regained my soul!
This is now my goal:
To answer to His call,
To care for great and small,
and share His love with all.

by Celia Shires, 19/06/22

Healing the Gerasene Demoniac by Christopher Wood-Archer is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

My Name was Legion © Celia E. Shires 2022, used with permission

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