An important piece of a healthy faith is an honest humility about what we don’t know; that is to say, what we don’t know about God and about what God can or cannot do. The strangeness of this week’s reading, a story in Luke reminds us of the very important fact that, to put it in the modern vernacular: “that was then and this is now.” For the church, the mission stays the same. Methods change with the times.
When Jesus leaves the cartographical and cultural boundaries of Israel this once, he encounters a person not just possessed by demons but beset by them. Now we can put aside what we see demons as but here I take the understanding that it is the presence of evil. In our scripture reading the spirits identify themselves as “Legion,” a name that evokes the number of demons that possess him but also Roman military might. This connection to Rome is no accident. Were Luke to identify a force most akin to the destabilizing, life-destroying force of these demons, he might well point to the armies of Caesar who claim to be bearers of the Pax Romana while carrying deadly swords.
Also emblematic of the power of these demons is the place where they have driven this demon-infested man. He spends his days wandering through tombs, closer to decomposing bodies than the lives of his neighbours, more familiar with death than with life. Note that, we are in a space of evil and death. When Jesus expels this legion of demons and drives them into a herd of pigs, the locals do not react with awe at Jesus’ power or gratitude for having restored this neighbour.
No, they are afraid. Why? Perhaps because the force Jesus brings in his wake is far too disruptive. Perhaps they had grown accustomed to a possessed man who wandered the tombs. His madness had become part of the local, social landscape. Perhaps they were afraid of a Jesus who threatened to turn the world upside down. This fear should be familiar to many of us.
When Jesus walks into our midst and promises life, do we yearn for the false comfort of death? When he offers healing, do we yearn for a world where our wholeness depends on the frailty of others? When he offers love, do we hold ever more tightly to the petty rivalries and broken relationships that have given our life shape if not meaning?
I believe the passage also challenges us to take action, from the simplest acts of visiting and being with those who are suffering to vigorously supporting efforts to relieve sickness and hunger and suffering around the world. Jesus’ action which can be seen as bizarre reminds us of our calling to fight to overcome the world’s demons or problems of illness and division and hunger— to stand against exploitation and war and, and, and . . . the list goes on and on. This seems a timely reminder in the wake of massacres of innocent people in USA, Kenya and Great Britain.
The world is full of demons or evil acts that possess and oppress God’s beloved children. It is our calling to follow the Christ into the world and battle to change those things not of God into something blessed. We are called to be part of delivering our brothers and sisters from the pains and sufferings, afflictions and evil forces that keep them separated from us, from God, and from each other.
An interesting challenge in today’s society, led be greed and hunger for power, which seems so obvious in many of those vying for our vote during this election time. As Christians, we are called to be driven by love in our lives which is a challenge to those forces that separate us from God and God’s love.