Today’s gospel lesson is one of my favorite stories of Jesus. There is just so much from which to glean from all of the rich symbolism in this story.
Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.
The opposite of Galilee. The opposite of home. The opposite of familiarity. The opposite of comfort. The opposite of sanctuary.
I believe it is important for the church today to note that the man in this story would have never had an encounter with Jesus, an encounter that brought him liberation, healing and restoration, if Jesus and his disciples stayed in Galilee.
This is one of the reasons I am so grateful for our Disciples Women Fellowship that has chosen to serve at Hope Campus twice a month. If we want to follow Jesus as his disciples, the church must be willing to leave the sanctuary to encounter people who need the liberation, healing and restoration that we know the love of God can bring.
As he stepped out on land,
Jesus and his disciples had just encountered a storm out on the lake, and now, as soon as Jesus steps out of the boat, they encounter a different kind of storm.
a man of the city who had demons met him.
A man of the city—reminds me of another story of Luke, when “a woman of the city who was a sinner,” anoints Jesus’ feet. Right away, we get the suspicion that this man had a sinful reputation.
For a long time, he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs.
And here is where we begin to get the picture that this man of the city is not the only sinner in this story. He is unnamed, naked, and homeless, and he lives among the dead. He is treated as if he was no longer alive, as if he did not exist. He is fully debased, degraded and dehumanized with no rights, no privileges, no power, and no place whatsoever in society.
Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him.
He has been driven to the margins of life by the Legion. Legion is a technical term for a division of the Roman Army. Thus, it is revealed that this man is a victim of the Roman Empire and its oppressive systems that do great harm to people like him.
We don’t know exactly what that means, “people like him,” but, sadly, we could make some good guesses:
Could it be that he spoke a foreign language? Was he an undocumented immigrant or refugee? Perhaps he had a different skin color? Maybe he practiced some kind of minority religion? Did he have cerebral palsy, autism, a Traumatic Brain Injury, down’s syndrome, or post-traumatic stress disorder? Did he suffer with seizures? Could it be that he suffered with some sort of mental illness? Might it be that he was gay or transgendered?
Not only is he a victim of unjust political systems, he is also a victim of his community. Unfortunately, that is the power of government: if the state leaders are against you, then it gives permission for society to be against you.
He’s labeled “demon possessed” which means he has been fully “other-ized.”
There is no evidence that he has ever harmed anyone, yet, he is “bound with chains and shackles” and “kept under guard.”
He is not to be counted in the census. There is no path to citizenship, no process to appeal. There is no grace.In an act of gross dehumanization, he is forced to live among the dead until he dies.
This is the evil of our world. It is not a spirit that might make us take off all of our clothes and take up residence in a cemetery. No, the evil of this world is the the chaining of this man, the oppression of this man, the dehumanizing treatment of this man, treating him as if he did not exist among the living, shackling him naked in a graveyard, is the true demonic evil in this story.
And for Jesus and his followers, this type of evil should always be brought out and driven out. Jesus is never happy when any person is demeaned, degraded, dehumanized and excluded from community. Whenever Jesus encounters chains, Jesus breaks the chains. The good news is that every time we draw a line that keeps people out, Jesus is with the people on the other side of that line.
This demonic evil, this anti-Christ spirit that possessed the state and the culture to oppress this man is further revealed in the fascinating account of the demons leaving the man and entering a herd of pigs that were minding their own business, innocently feeding on a hillside. As soon as the pigs get infected by the demons, they immediately rush down a steep bank, and they drown in the lake.
I once heard a preacher joke that it is right here in this story that we have the first recorded instance of “deviled ham.”
I know, it’s a terrible joke. Sounds like the kind of thing we might hear Jim Creekmore might say. The poor pigs. What did they do to deserve to become agents of evil? And how could Jesus do such an inhumane thing to any of God’s beloved creatures?
However, we soon discover that these poor pigs were infected with evil long before Jesus showed up.
Notice what happens when Jesus liberates this man (verse 37). When they find the man is liberated, do all the people thank Jesus? No, all the people, “all the people in the surrounding country beg Jesus to leave their presence.”
The demonic evil here is not only the oppression of this man by unjust political systems and a fearful culture, but that the people valued their pigs more than the man’s liberation. The people would rather keep their pigs, their income, their stock values, their privilege and power, rather than see this man set free. This is what made this herd of ham so deviled.
If it means losing some pigs, keep the man shackled.
If it means losing some pigs, crucify the liberator.
If it means losing some pigs, succeed from the union.
If it means losing some pigs, assassinate the preacher.
If it means losing some pigs, suppress the vote.
If it means losing some pigs, oppose the minimum wage.
If it means losing some pigs, then ban foreign nationals of another religion. Separate families. Close the border.
If it means losing some pigs, then resist equality, forget fairness and defend discrimination.
If it means losing some pigs, then keep quiet. Stay silent and stay put. Learn to live with injustice.
If it means losing some pigs, then stomach the murder of children. Be okay with torture. Endure endless war.
If it means losing some pigs, then water down the gospel. Ignore evil. Neglect the poor. Send the stranger away. Don’t feed the hungry. Don’t heal the sick, and whatever you do, don’t do anything to follow the sacrificial way of Jesus. Don’t love others as you love yourselves.
If it means losing some pigs, keep the man naked, chained and guarded.
The truth is, that whenever a person or a group is liberated from oppression, there is another person or group that has some deviled ham to lose, some things that they value more than another’s freedom.
So, a good question for us is, what is our deviled ham? What do we value more than another’s freedom?
Patriarchy? White supremacy? Heterosexism? Religious superiority? Homogenous cities and neighborhoods? Homogenous churches? Cheap fast food? Inexpensive coffee? Inexpensive clothing? Easy and quick access to guns?
Another question is: are we ready to leave Galilee? Leave the familiar and the comfortable in order to bring liberation, healing and restoration to another. Are we willing to leave home so others can have a home?
The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying,
“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” [Restored to his community,] he proclaimed throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
Desiree Adaway, a consultant, trainer, and coach who helps to build equitable and inclusive working environments in companies and organizations including: IBM, United Airlines, The Girl Scouts, and Rotary International, writes:
We are all socialized into systems that oppress.
We learn to accept oppression as normal.
We are born into a social system which teaches us to accept things as they are.
We are rewarded for accepting things as they are.
We are congratulated for accepting things as they are.
We become “model members of society” when we accept things as they are.
We gain comfort, money, connections and power when we accept things as they are. People who go against the grain, pay the price.
I know [there’s] a tiny voice deep in your heart is saying “I do not oppress people.”
That might be true, you may not actively oppress others- but here is the reality- oppression is still happening, because this cycle and the systems they support continue to run uninterrupted.
Oppression is the norm, not the exception.
Justice is the exception, not the norm.
Institutions influence individuals and individuals influence institutions.
This process is pervasive, consistent, circular, self-perpetuating, and invisible.
The simplest thing to do is nothing.
But we have failed to realize that we have become participants in our own oppression by doing nothing.
Will you take responsibility for the oppression that continues? Will you stand up and confront the systems, rules, and norms?
How, where, and when you confront injustice is irrelevant, as long as you do it.
You and I are responsible for interrupting oppression. We are responsible for dismantling it. We are responsible for creating new systems and ways to share social power.
Society will not transform itself. We have to break the chains.
We all have to pay the price, so that can happen.