With a few brush strokes, Luke gives us a story of demons. His story of the "Gerasene demoniac" (Luke 8:26-39) is found in all three Gospels, and each version carries the embroidery of a folk legend told and retold, with embellishments and exaggerations and lots of local color.
But it's not the fantastic details that catch my eye, or my heart, not the chains and fetters, or the number of swine, but the man hidden in the center of the story, the man possessed by all those demons. He is somebody we all have seen, somebody we may know. And he's somebody who asks us to look at ourselves.
He's a man who has lost himself. He had been "a man of the city" known to his neighbors, a member of the community. But now he lives in death, "among the tombs" Luke says, out beyond the city walls. He has nothing, no home, no clothes, no name anymore. He has no voice. When he opens his mouth, only the shrieks of the demonic come out. He is lost to himself and shattered into unrecognizable pieces of his former humanity. He is at the mercy of powers beyond his control, driven to the brink of existence.
In Luke's telling, Jesus runs into this man just as he gets off the boat-he's just sailed over from Galilee, and it was a stormy crossing. In the face of that storm, Jesus is the source of calm. And now here's another storm, swirling around this man who cries out to Jesus. And what does Jesus do? Jesus reaches through his raging craziness and asks his name. "What is your name?"
Jesus gives the man an identity again, or tries to, and the healing begins. Again, it's not the details of that healing that make this story worth re-telling, it's the human reach, and touch, at the heart of it. As in almost all the healing stories, Jesus reaches across the cultural taboos against illness-he even travels across the sea, beyond the familiar territory of the Galilee. Jesus reaches across the isolation and separation so characteristic of illness, and calms the storms in this man, speaking to him and treating him like a human being.
And here's where the story becomes our story-if it wasn't already. We see the man sitting at Jesus' feet, demoniac-turned-disciple, "clothed and calm in his mind" Luke tells us. We have a living, breathing example of what Jesus was talking about in his first sermon at Nazareth, when he said that he had come to release those in bondage and liberate the oppressed. And we have a choice about how to respond.
In the story, the people from the town respond with fear. The unexpected has happened in their midst and they don't like it. They pack Jesus back into his boat and wave him off with relief. Too much change when he's around; best to keep a lid on things. So that's one choice we have, in the face of the unexpected: fear, and a return to the familiar, even when it means the chains that bind us.
The man restored to wholeness responds in another way. He becomes a disciple. He wants to stay next to Jesus, but Jesus sends him off, to tell his story of healing. And so he goes, embracing his new life and proclaiming the good news of his liberation.
How do we respond to the possibility of healing in our lives, our institutions, our communities: do we choose to hold fast to the old ways, or do we step forward into liberation?
Echoes from the Edge
By Richard Burden, 2012-13 Beatitudes Fellow - June 17th, 2013
Three Recommendations from Richard:
The Experience of God: Icons of the Mystery ,
by Raimon Panikkar
The work of Raimon Panikkar has influenced me deeply. His thinking is broad and complex, and his writing can be dense and challenging, yet it is always rewarding. This is perhaps his most accessible work, a gorgeous meditation on the multiple ways God (or as he would say the Real, the Whole, the Mystery) is experienced in human life. His final work Rhythm of Being is now available and it's amazing.
Conflict and the Christian Life , by Sam Potaro
Sam was the chaplain when I was at the University of Chicago. I'd recommend any of his writing (including his spiritual blog for Episcopal CREDO Veni), however this is one that I return to again and again in my daily work as a parish priest. He affirms that "the truth will set you free," but first, he says, "the truth will make you anxious". With insight drawn from his own deep well of leading authentically and from the heart, he shows how crisis, conflict, and fear are part of all life, including the spiritual/Christian life. They are always with us and are in fact gifts to be received and stewarded. What he provides is not a work on how to negotiate better, but rather a theological framework for living into difficult pastoral situations with faith and integrity.
The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness, by Joel Ben Izzy
This unforgettable true fable was required reading for my homiletics class in seminary. I think it should be required reading period. It's the book I almost alway recommend when someone asks "what's a good book to read." It's the story of storyteller who loses his gift and finds his soul-his true voice.
Finally, the Poet
By Billy Collins - June 17th, 2013Of all the questions you might want to askabout angels, the only one you ever hearis how many can dance on the head of a pin. No curiosity about how they pass the eternal timebesides circling the Throne chanting in Latinor delivering a crust of bread to a hermit on earthor guiding a boy and girl across a rickety wooden bridge. Do they fly through God's body and come out singing?Do they swing like children from the hingesof the spirit world saying their names backwards and forwards?Do they sit alone in little gardens changing colors? What about their sleeping habits, the fabric of their robes,their diet of unfiltered divine light?What goes on inside their luminous heads? Is there a wallthese tall presences can look over and see hell? If an angel fell off a cloud, would he leave a holein a river and would the hole float along endlesslyfilled with the silent letters of every angelic word? If an angel delivered the mail, would he arrivein a blinding rush of wings or would he just assumethe appearance of the regular mailman andwhistle up the driveway reading the postcards? No, the medieval theologians control the court.The only question you ever hear is aboutthe little dance floor on the head of a pinwhere halos are meant to converge and drift invisibly. It is designed to make us think in millions,billions, to make us run out of numbers and collapseinto infinity, but perhaps the answer is simply one:one female angel dancing alone in her stocking feet,a small jazz combo working in the background. She sways like a branch in the wind, her beautifuleyes closed, and the tall thin bassist leans overto glance at his watch because she has been dancingforever, and now it is very late, even for musicians.
Originally posted on the blog of The Beatitudes Society.Used my permission.