The Devil You Know
In the article last week preparing for Sunday’s sermon the focus was on fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of how God may work in our lives. This theme of fear is evident in the gospel lesson and it raises other questions we should ask ourselves. What are we afraid of? Are we afraid of God? Should we be? Why or why not?
Text: Luke 8: 26-39
The Devil You Know
How does the expression go, “Better the devil you know.” This is an expression which could easily sum up what is happening in our gospel lesson from Luke this morning.
Jesus and the disciples are travelling by boat across Lake Galilee. We are told that Gerasa is across the lake from Galilee. This is important as Jesus has ‘left’ his home territory. There are other clues which point to this. The inclusion of pigs as the livestock indicates that we are in Gentile territory as Jews didn’t eat pork, thus they wouldn’t have need to keep pigs.
It is important because it reminds us that Jesus had a message not only for Jerusalem but also for the world. The man who is healed by Jesus in our gospel lesson is a Gentile. Jesus brings healing and comfort to those who are not like us. Jesus brings healing and comfort to all people regardless of place of origin.
There is within our text a great deal going on and there are many questions we could ask.
Was the man possessed by a multitude of demons or did he suffer from what we would diagnose today as a mental illness?
Why does Jesus negotiate with the demons? Why not just drive them out and send them back to the abyss?
Why are the farmers and people of Gerasa afraid of Jesus? Why do they ask him to leave?
These are some of the questions and issues which Luke raises in his gospel. They are all interesting in their own right and so we will deal with them and then consider the larger issue that they point towards.
The man who Jesus heals, note that he is the first to approach Jesus. It appears as though he is waiting for Jesus to arrive. This is a man who due to his affliction has been driven from society, no longer clothes himself and lives in burial caves. A social outcast and pariah if ever there was one.
Note that he recognizes who Jesus is immediately. He names himself as “Legion” for he was afflicted by many demons. The question of whether he was possessed by demons or suffering from a mental illness is moot. Jesus is concerned with the man’s welfare and seeks to restore him to wholeness. Jesus expresses compassion towards him and heals him of what was afflicting him. The compassion and willingness of Jesus to engage with this man is what is important here. Jesus does not turn his back on him or ignore him. Jesus does not turn his nose up at him.
Why does Jesus negotiate with the demons? There are many ideas about why Jesus may have done this. Perhaps sending the demons into the pigs, which were viewed as unclean animals, simply didn’t concern Jesus. But this answer is upsetting as these animals provided a living for the individuals who cared for and owned them. Why come and minister to the people of Gerasa only to insult them?
Perhaps there is a larger message going on here. The swineherds were upset and afraid of what Jesus had done. Does this remind us that the message of the gospel may bring upheaval in our lives? That in order to expel and do away with evil, hate, indifference, apathy among other things we may have to get uncomfortable and give up something. In order to heal a man, some pigs had to die. The Good News is perhaps not good news for everyone.
There is within Luke’s gospel today an overriding sense of fear. Those who have just encountered Jesus are afraid of him and there fear is so great that they ask him to leave. They have witnessed Jesus heal a man and this has resulted in a disruption to the local economy. What else might Jesus change or challenge? The people are unwilling to find out and so Jesus is asked to leave.
Note that they don’t ask the man who was healed to leave, just Jesus. For his part the man asks to be allowed to follow Jesus. However, Jesus tells him no. You can’t stay with me because I want to send you out. You must tell people what God has done for you. And what does the man do?
He tells everyone what Jesus has done for him. The man recognizes Jesus as God and goes out and proclaims it.
I wonder how people reacted to him. After all he had only moments ago been crazed and living in tombs. How did they receive this message when they were so afraid of Jesus they asked him to leave?
Is the presence and power of God something that we should be afraid of? Should we be afraid of what Jesus can do in our lives? Perhaps the answer lies in whether we are truly willing to live up to what Jesus asks of us.
If Jesus did show up today, we might all be in for a shock. Many of our assumptions, mine included, might be tested. I wonder how we might feel about that.
Within Christianity you may here the term the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’. These are listed as pride, envy, wrath, gluttony, lust, greed and sloth. It is the sin of sloth I want to talk about briefly. Sloth is often referred to as laziness. In actual fact it is closer to spiritual boredom. When we are not willing to engage in our faith, to grow in our faith, to be challenged by our faith we are guilty of sloth. We have become spiritually bored. We need to engage with Jesus, with the gospel and challenge our living and our assumptions. To constantly look for God’s truth in all things.
It is easier to remain still, to stay unchanging than it is to grow in God’s love. However, only God is unchanging, the same from age to age. God calls us to love and to live in God’s grace. In order to do that we canot stay the same. Accepting God’s free gift of grace moves us towards change.
We should be fearful of God, but not terrified. Fearful about what might happen if we don’t live within God’s love and mercy. Fearful of the world which will be created without God’s love. Fearful of the world we live in because God’s love isn’t being shared enough. God shakes things up through the grace which is afforded us.
The message we have today is one of mission. Jesus leaves Galilee and heads across the lake. He goes to the other side of the tracks. We are also called to go outside of our comfort zones in order to engage in Christ’s mission. The message we share about Jesus will bring opposition. As we read this morning some people were afraid of the healing, it disrupted their work and would have caused economic hardship. They recognized that their lives would be changed and they weren’t willing. We will face that same type of opposition. Living as a Christians today is not easy. We don’t get to walk around and say to people well you had it coming or to be indifferent to the problems in the world. That’s what the enemy wants us to do.
We are called to step out of the boat on the “opposite side”. We take the mission of Jesus, to heal and comfort to those who have been ignored and marginalized by society. We care for and are compassionate to all people. Those we like and those we don’t. Those we understand and those we don’t. We are called to love our enemies, to embrace them and to find a third way forward. To recognize that even in our difference we can care for one another. In doing so we free ourselves and our neighbours from cycles of distrust and separation.
The question we must ask ourselves is the same one those town people in Gerasa had to ask. Do we prefer the devil we know to the freedom we do not? Amen.