Imagine for a minute with me that we are walking in a downtown anywhere in the world. It could be Carlisle, perhaps a nearby city. We walk a specific section of that town on a daily basis. We are very familiar with the people we see, who are walking the streets, the people in the shops and stores. And each time we take this walk, we see one particular individual sitting on one of the street corner. Every time we have walked the street we see this individual, he is talking to himself, he wears ragged clothing, we might notice that it seems as though he has not had a bath in a number of weeks. And it is the same situation every time we take this walk, we see that man sitting there, talking to himself, acting and looking strangely.
And then we take this same walk today, we go down the street and see the usual faces and when we reach the street corner where we expect to this poorly dressed, unkempt person, we do not see him. Instead we observe someone who is dressed in a suit and tie, and has a table set up there, which says that he is offering free tax advice to anyone. The man offering the advice looks familiar, his face looks strikingly like someone we have seen on a regular basis, but who is it. Then it comes to us. The tax man’s face looks an awful like the face of that man who used to sit on the sidewalk, talk to himself. Is this even remotely possible? How could a man go from one day, looking similar to someone who is homeless and then the next day offering sound tax advice while wearing a nice Armani suit? How would we feel if we saw this happen before our own eyes?
I had mentioned a couple of weeks ago that the theme for this year’s Lenten time was exercise for us, to make us more fit in a number of different ways. This week we are looking at mental exercise. Working our minds seems straight forward in some ways. There are ways to improve upon our mental acuity and capacity.
Going to class, or taking certain subjects can help ourselves. But there are other ways to do this sort of exercise, and we see one scenario in scripture today that lends itself to mental exercise, dealing with people, life, and change. Perhaps we also need to look at our own process of viewing, interacting, and evaluating the people around us. Do we keep an open mind as we relate to people, or do we have a tendency to judge a person at first glance, or as the saying goes, a book by its cover? Can we accept people as they are, or what they turn into? How do we approach the people in this world and are we in need of evaluating that we look at them mentally?
The story of the demoniac is part of a connected series of texts that run from 8:22-9:6. In this segment, there are four miracle stories followed by the giving of power to the twelve to go out to “proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.”
There are two contributing factors as consider as we approach this passage for today. The first factor is detailed just before today’s Lukan passage. In Luke 8:21 Jesus redefines family by stating that his family consists of those who “hear the word of God and do it.”
While that section of text may start literally with defining biological family, I think also there’s a wider definition of family, relationships and community which we need to think about. We all may need to mentally consider what limits we place on individual people who may belong in our lives, or how groups of people need to be classified. As we think about who is included according to our designations, we also need to start to comprehend on the lines and definitions God uses to include people, who are acceptable in God’s eyes, who can belong to the family of God.
2. The second factor has to do with fear. In the verses before the Lukan text heard today, the disciples became fearful while they were on a boat with Jesus, and let their feelings limit and challenge them. .They walk away from faith due to the weather surrounding the boat. Fear is a limiting aspect to our lives, particularly our faith lives.
Of the 4 miracles in the segment of the gospel of Luke, today’s wonder is the only one takes place in a Gentile context. Jesus stretched his perspective, and travelled in a boat to the eastern side of the lake (Galilean sea). Upon arriving on the eastern shore, Jesus travelled into this area where the cities of the Decapolis are scattered. Jesus was not known in this area where he will eventually perform a miracle. The people in this community do not know Jesus, but the demon does. Jesus entered foreign community, and healed a foreigner. The demon knows of Jesus, and is scared of him. Jesus has so much power that he is able to leave his home territory, enter an unknown place, and yet still command a demon to leave this possessed man alone for good.
It is possible that Spirits and demons had varying levels of power and abilities. This particular demon would have been very strong. Consider the environment in which the possessed man existed. The man was living amongst tombs, a location where no other people lived. This scripture passage tells us that the possessed man wore no clothes, probably because the acts the man performed when possessed would have caused any and all clothes to be destroyed. We learn that this man was put under guard and placed in chain and shackles. But the man would continue to break the chains and shackles. This was one powerful demon. This possessed man had been this way for a long time, people knew him only as the demoniac..
Whoever was spiritually in charge of this gentile, this non jewish demon, the power of Jesus was still stronger. In this passage Jesus demonstrated the universal strength of Jesus. The power of God is clearly not limited. It can cross cultures and races, geography and communities. This point is reinforced by what Jesus accomplished. We need to be able to comprehend the power that God offers people, and how this strength is not constrained by any human designated boundary or limitation.
Through this passage, Jesus transforms the life of one person, and the demon is exorcized. Jesus directs the demons into some nearby pigs to free the man. The pigs are so distressed by where the demon is transferred to, that they go running off of a cliff. The man who had been possessed for so long was so changed by this encounter with Jesus that he was able to put clothes on and sit at the feet of Jesus, listening and be engaged by the words of Jesus.
We can be awed and possibly be amazed by the power of Jesus, and what God can do. We have to take the time so we may be able to mentally process what transpired and be enlightened from it. The people of this town may have been challenged to find anything inspiring in this situation. The man who had been living amongst the tombs, who had been naked for so long, who had been throwing himself around, hurting himself and anyone who got too close, was now in control, had been designated as a part of society again, and showing wisdom and clarity of thought. He had gone through quite the makeover.
I have to think that the formerly possessed man would have been excited to join society again, to learn and interact with other. Clearly he wants to become a follower of Jesus. But not everyone feels the same way about the change in him. The townspeople who had known this wild man so long were unnerved by the change in him, as well as being scared of man who had brought this alteration about. The townspeople did not want Jesus around anymore and asked him to leave. There were fearful and not mentally ready to comprehend the power of Jesus, nor his divine strength to change others.
Fear can be a challenge to faith. But I believe that we can make our faith to be a guide in our lives. Faith can allow us to mentally absorb and acclimate to the world which we are called to live in.
One quick story. Final year of graduate school intern working on the streets of Chicago with an organization called the Night Ministry. A number of people who worked for this company or interned there in various neighborhoods. The job description was to walk their respective areas, speaking to people, listening to their stories, even helping those who need assistance. My neighborhood centered the intersection of Belmont Ave and Clark street. To give people perspective, this intersection was 4 blocks south of Wrigley Field. The neighborhood I was assigned to was very diverse. Many visitors to this area. There were lots of people who were wealthy in this area, there were also people who were truly struggling and just looking to make it from day to day. I met a number of people who lived and frequented that area. I would like to talk about one of them today. His name was “William.” He was remarkable from y first encounter with him in that he was convinced I was a police officer and was going to harass and arrest him Yet in spite of the collar, William was convinced I was a cop. He became quite belligerent and hostile in our encounter.
It felt as though he was ready to assault me at several points during this encounter.
Almost did not recognize him second encounter, different personality same person.
Mental exercises for us in lent Faith and not fear, listening to god guidance and not our own definitions or determinations May this story encourage us to listen to the spirit of God and heed the power of God.