Some time ago, a wise person told me to be careful how you treat people because you never know the things that they are going through. This advice has stuck with me throughout my years, and I've done my best to live into them daily.
All people, regardless of race, class, or situation, deserve to be treated as children of God and nothing less.
If we are not extremely careful, before we get to hear a person's story, we can categorize and ostracize people that are different from us. It is, admittedly, easy to write someone off as bad or crazy or not with it. It's easy to say that they don't care, which makes it easy for us not to care about them.
That being said, I believe very strongly that, at the core, human beings are good. That ultimately we want what's best for ourselves and others. Somewhere along the line, however, we are conditioned to act otherwise. At some point we learn to take care of ourselves instead of community, we learn to ignore the needs of others, and we learn to separate ourselves from what God expects of us.
In today's Gospel Jesus models and gives us a refresher course on our responsibilities towards people that are in need.
We are told in scripture that Jesus has barely set foot on shore and a man possessed with demons greets him. This man is described as a man that "for long time has worn no clothes, and that he did not live in the house but in the tombs."
He is alive, but in truth very much a dead man walking. No place to call home; no clothes to cover his back. A stranger in his own land. Unfortunately, and far too often, this is the story of so many of our poor and homeless brothers and sisters throughout our nation and the world. Invisible, mentally ill and left to fend for themselves.
There is, however, some evidence of life in him. A flickering light though it may be, and that is the fact that he mustered up enough energy to "show up" and meet Jesus. Maybe he's heard of what Jesus has done; whatever the case, the man decided that it was important enough to show up.
If you remember, he's unlike the man in the 5th chapter of the Gospel of John at the pool of Bethesda, plagued with what Rev. James Forbes calls the spirit of Victimization. And for 38 years that man at that pool laid there feeling sorry for himself. But unlike him, this man that greeted Jesus went after what he wanted.
It sounds so simple, but it's so important. If the question is ever asked, "How do you overcome obstacles or survive in this world?" begin your answer with showing up! It's been said that 80 percent of life is showing up.
Fortitude cannot be tested if you're not there; victory does not come to those who are absent; trials cannot be overcome if you run from them. You must, at the very least, find the strength and courage to show up! There is promise and power in being present.
In the same way, the man that has been possessed by demons doesn't wait until he gets better. He doesn't wait until he is in a better state of mind. He doesn't try to clean himself up to increase his presentation. He shows up as he is. Don't miss that! There is a tendency that we have sometimes to put our best foot forward, to present ourselves to the world and to others as if everything is okay. Using this approach, we fool ourselves and, ultimately, block our ability for God to do a mighty work in us.
"Come unto me," the scripture says, "all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from (of) me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls."
In his lowly state this possessed man gives us a jewel.
Furthermore, I believe that there is something to be learned from a person that is down and out and has nowhere to turn but toward God. They have nothing to hold on to, no reputation to protect, no constituencies to please, only the desire to be in relationship with God.
My guess is that at this point in his life he does not have the energy nor the time to be anything but genuine and true, and probably he gave up a long time ago trying to be anything else.
He doesn't present himself as one who is asking for assistance, which makes sense, because being polite, while useful, is not necessarily synonymous with asking for help! Forcefully and bluntly, he says to Jesus, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High? I beg you, do not torment me." Jesus, seemingly, unbothered by his tone, brushes it off, and appears to take his "ruff talk" as a cry or plea for help.
"What is your name?" he asks. "Legion," the man responds, a name which publicly acknowledges his battle with demons. In order to be healed he had to name it, and in naming it he freed himself from the shackles of stigma and in that moment gave himself completely and totally to the one that heals.
In today's society we cringe at the mention of demons. We immediately think about the movies that we've seen on TV, usually those make-believe depictions that make it hard for people to relate.
What would happen if we referred to demons as evil spirits? Would that somehow free us from our disbelief and allow our imaginations to run free? Could we relate then? The demons that we deal with, in our everyday lives, are those destructive spirits that move us away from our hearts desires; they interfere with what God wants and what we want for our lives. They try to steer us in a different direction.
And so I ask, those listening to my voice, what are your demons, what are the evil spirits that take you further and further away from your heart's desire? Is it fear? Is it arrogance? Maybe stubbornness? Is it addiction? Name them! What interferes with your relationship with God? Is it selfishness, dishonesty, low self-esteem? Name them.
Put another way, what causes you so much pain and torment and anger that you yell out of desperation, "What have you to do with me Jesus, Son of the most High? I beg you not to torment me." Put a name to it and lay that burden down.
Imagine for a moment that Jesus is making his way towards your shore. He carries with him the potential to heal the demons that you struggle with. You have nothing to lose and so much to gain. With this visit it's possible that he will lighten the load that you carry, dispose of the baggage that you've been toting around and provide the clarity that you've been seeking if you would just ask. He will be here shortly. Take a chance, SHOW UP, and meet him there.
Let us pray.
If your body suffers pain and your health you can't regain,
And your soul is almost sinking in despair,
Jesus knows the pain you feel, He can save and He can heal--
Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.