Tue 11 Jun 2013
David Orendorff Luke 8:26-39 June 9, 2013
For me, this is one of the funniest stories in the Bible. I have always loved it. The first thing that strikes me is how immediately afraid the demons are of Jesus. Jesus steps out the boat, the demons see him and, without introduction, knock the man down so that he is in the position of worshipping Jesus. They then speak in one voice, calling Jesus the “Son of the Most High God” (again worship) and want him to declare his intentions toward them. Note, it is the demons who speak in one voice and not the man speaking. This is total possession. All Jesus has done is step out of the boat and the demons recognize him as both God’s son and as a threat to them.
Luke feels compelled to explain why this happened by saying that Jesus had commanded the demon (note the singular) to come out of the man. Luke’s explanation is both out of sequence in the story and miscounts the demons so that I get the feeling Luke didn’t understand any better than me why the demons react so quickly to Jesus’ presence as a threat. In other stories we get similar recognitions from demons. It is as if the whole demon world has heard of Jesus and knows he is out to get them.
Like the demons, there have been times I feared Jesus because I heard how he changes lives, and a stubborn part of me doesn’t want the change.
A second funny thing to me is the conversation with the demons who call themselves Legion because there are so many of them. A Roman legion of soldiers is around 5,000 men. That is a lot of demons in one person. I have some mental illness (the equivalent of demon possession), but not 5,000. This is a very serious case as the description of the man’s behavior confirms.
So Jesus is patiently talking with around 5,000 demons. They are afraid Jesus is going to cast them into the abyss. The abyss must be a pretty bad place, where and whatever it is, if even demons don’t want to go there. Thinking they are clever and can save themselves, the demons ask Jesus if they can go into some nearby pigs. He agrees and they go into the pigs. In fear, the demons cast themselves out of the man and into the pigs.
Gone mad with 5,000 demons, the pigs drive themselves into the lake. Now, pay careful attention. Jesus didn’t drive the pigs into the lake; they drove themselves. So if you think about it, Jesus hasn’t done a miracle. He has not cast out demons. He has not driven the pigs into the lake. He has done nothing but show up, and the demons, in their fear of Jesus, heal the demoniac. How is that for an ironic reversal?
For a Jewish listener it is probably even funnier stuff. It is like saying, “Five thousand demons and a bunch of pigs walk into a lake. They drown.” It is demons, pigs and a lake, and of course they drown—and good riddance to the bunch.
Again, I have known myself to be like the demons, being afraid I devise my own clever salvation only for God to let me reap the consequences of my arrogance and self delusion.
The third funny thing is the reaction of the swineherds and the town’s folk. The swineherds are afraid and run to town, explaining to all who will listen how they didn’t drown the pigs, but that Jesus did it. Well, by now we know Jesus didn’t do it and that the swineherds are obviously trying to protect themselves from losing the pigs into the lake.
And I have been like the swineherds, shifting the blame because I wanted anyone else to take the fall and not me.
And the folks who rush down to the shore to see what happened also strike me as funny. They see a man who was dangerously crazy, sitting at Jesus’ feet (the position of a disciple), clothed and in his right mind. You think they would celebrate as a simple act of caring for one who had been suffering. You would think that, like the man who was again right in his head, these people might also want to sit down and learn from Jesus. But no, they “were seized by a great fear” because they were afraid of him. Respecting their desire, Jesus gets back into the boat to depart from them. They had wisdom before them but fear made them blind. Been there and done that.
And a final funny—well, two funny things: Before Jesus departs the man begs to come with him and be his follower. But Jesus sends him away, saying, “Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.” It seems strange that Jesus would refuse a disciple. And when the man does go home, he doesn’t quite get Jesus’ message right. Jesus says, “tell how much God has done for you,” but the man declares “how much Jesus has done for him,” though we just saw that Jesus did nothing but permit 5,000 demons to jump into a herd of pigs and drown themselves.
Here you are my witnesses, for I have tried to repeat the good news of God only to get the message slightly garbled.
There is one final place I have sometimes found myself identifying. This place is with Jesus. I have done nothing but listen to and love someone who suffers, and that simple act of presence, to my surprise and wonder, has permitted me to be the observer of what God does to heal. This is, of course, what Stephen Ministers are trained to do. Come to a place, get out of the boat, listen to the voices of demons in the suffering, give permission for the demons to leave, and watch the suffering turn to faith.
I remember in my first year of fulltime pastoral ministry a family who called me to visit after their son of 18 inexplicably died in the field while haying. It was not a family I knew and not a family of the congregations I served. They were strangers and, on my way, I wondered what good my visiting them could possibly bring. But I went, listened, prayed and they found some release from their pain and moved away from their anger with God and toward God’s healing love.
What the wonderful story of the Gerasene demonic has to teach me is that I don’t have to have a totally fearless faith to be healed and to be a healer. I just have to love others as God loves me.
I hope you found yourself learning something of faith and love in the strange story of the Gerasene Demoniac.
Shalom and Amen.