I don't care if you are Al Roker or Willard Scott, no one can honestly estimate the wrath of a storm. We can't control them or stop them. How does the Psalm go? Though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam... (Psalm 46). Well, it seems like Jesus was having one of those days. We find Jesus on the shore after crossing the gliding waters of the Sea of Galilee where Jews caught fish and Jesus caught disciples. But as you know, this trip with his fearful disciples was not smooth sailing. And come to find out, the raging sea wasn't the only storm Jesus commanded that day. Hear what happens when Jesus lands on the east side, the Gentile side of the lake, in the Gospel of Luke 8:26-27.
Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time, he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me." - for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" He said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So, he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So, he got into the boat and returned. 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." So, he went away proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
This is the word of the Lord.
His mother would have gazed in wonder as she nursed him a long time ago. He would have seemed perfect to her. Maybe as a little boy, he would have pleaded for mercy as his father's wrestling as it turned into a full-on hysterical tickling attack. I wonder if he ever had a first kiss or learned to fish? Did he ever have the chance to lie in a hushed field and count the stars at night? Where did they go wrong? Did someone hurt him? Was he neglected? Something must have happened. He always was a little off. Do you think he was married? I bet she left with the kids. I wouldn't blame her.
"How long has he been up there in the tombs?"
"I don't know, long enough for his clothes to have worn off."
"I heard he broke free."
"Oh no. I hope they find him."
Naked as a jaybird, dirty as a pig, shameful really. Crazy as a loon, whacked out of his mind, coo-coo, lost his marbles. As long as we can talk about his demons, we don't have to face our own, do we? Problem is, he's so gone we can no longer keep him under control. Even though we've gone to great lengths to keep him away from us, he's causing problems. So, we do what we have to do; change the locks, turn him over to the officials, cut him out of our lives, chain him up, and pretend he never existed.
Is he a dead man walking or a living ghost? He dwells in a tomb with chains and shackles and guards. Yet no one can keep him restrained, and he won't shut up! In Mark's version of this story he howls day and night. The most heart-breaking thing of all; he self-mutilates by beating himself with stones (Mark 5:1-20). Does he bruise himself because he is tormented or because he just wants to feel something he can control? He's beyond saving.
DEMONS, we all have demons. Of course, instead of addressing them head on, we go to great lengths to avoid them and silence them and control them - if all else fails, escape them: voices, feelings, out-of-control thoughts, habits, all those fragile parts of our hearts and our minds and bodies we thought we had control over. We all have demons, which is probably why Jesus made the trip to a spiritually unclean, Roman occupied, gentile town full of swine herders in the first place. Jesus had a point to make: no one is so unclean we are out of God's reach, but we don't really want to hear it. As long as this dirty, crazy, homeless, dude is out of sight, we can keep pretending we have our acts together. Let's talk about him, shame him, blame him, try to fix him, control him and then, let's refuse to acknowledge he exists.
Meanwhile, back on the Homefront, one glass takes the edge off, another to unwind, and a third induces numbness. Netflix, You Tube, pot, doesn't it all basically work the same way? We all have demons. We can crawl into our beds and weep for days without explanation. Uncontrollable panic can attack us without warning. Fear or grief can lead us to the darkest tombs. Sometimes it's impossible to escape or control these mighty storms, so we might try to control or escape other things instead. Stop eating or eat too much. We may not have the energy to move, or we might exercise or work or shop too much. We could play Xbox too much. And when all else fails, we resort to blaming our children or partners or parents. Nobody wants to face their own demons.
But it seems this man, this man has nothing else to lose and nowhere to go. His demons are so powerful and all-consuming all he can do is break free from the shackles, flee into the desert and hope he might outrun them. He was certainly strong enough to deal with the chains, and he was used to being isolate, too. But no one can face demons alone.
So this time, he finds Jesus and throws himself to the ground as if somewhere buried deep within his soul, a faint whisper of hope remains. He is still in there. Perhaps he was so broken it was obvious that he had no power over these voices and no pride to pretend otherwise. Even in this state of skepticism and desperation, probably because of it, the man proclaims Jesus as the Son of the Most High God. How in the world does he even know who Jesus is? But I'm not sure he was expecting much. It was as if he was testing, begging and smack-talking Jesus all at once. I wonder, what does it take for folks like you and me to drop to our knees and say, "Here I am, Son of God, what are You going to do with the likes of me?"
Jesus' choice to annihilate the demons was not dependent on what this desperate man did or did not know in the midst of his crisis. We love God because God loves us first.[i] This man didn't ask Jesus to save him, and there is no mention of him accepting Jesus as his Lord and Savior either. Reformer Karl Barth was clear, "The Apostles did not ask people whether they would accept [JESUS] or not, but (instead) they told them of a reality . . . of true freedom.[ii]
Jesus asks the man his name, but he responds with the names of his demons. "LEGION," they announce themselves with great vigor, "We are 5,000 Roman soldiers attacking this man from the inside out!" There is no way this man's momma named him LEGION! It would be as if we stood before a baptismal font with a precious baby and called him, DEPRESSION or ADDICTION or ANOREXIA. LEGION cannot be this man's name. God knows us and loves us for who God created us to be.
This gentile man would not have known of God's promise through the prophet Isaiah. The one that says, "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you: I have called you by name" (Isaiah 43), but Jesus is on the shoreline anyway. Society has it all wrong! Our human struggles, illnesses and weaknesses - they do not define us. After proclaiming Jesus as the Son of the Most High God, this man falls to his knees and names his demons. And if you've ever been to an A-A, an N-A, or an Al-Anon meeting, you know what I'm talking about. Folks in recovery introduce themselves at meetings by sharing their God-given authentic name and then stating their addiction. Right then, the demons begin losing their power. Where two or three are gathered, the demons know the gig is up.
Overdose and addiction is the number one cause of death in Americans under 50. We don't talk about it, but almost 15% of us will develop a substance abuse issue at some point in our lives.[iii] Did you know those tiny vaping juuls hold the equivalent of 20 cigarettes of liquid nicotine each? 37% of high school seniors and over 10% of 8th graders vape.[iv] Over half of us have a close relative suffering from dependency, addiction or abuse.[v] One in every five adults has a prescription for opioids, and almost 70% of all drug related deaths involved opioids.[vi]
Jesus might be motivated by compassion, but be clear, the miracles of Christ have a purpose beyond their impact on the one who is restored. If you ask a theologian like Jürgen Moltmann, he would say, "along with prophetic preaching, Jesus' miracles and healings are the most important testimony to the dawning Kingdom of God."[vii]
Here's the thing. Yes, Jesus will meet us in our darkest tombs, but He comes with a promise that our lives will not stay the same. That is Good News for the naked, demented guy, but perhaps we should consider what this means for us. You see, we don't mind sending a little food up the hill. We don't mind paying the soldiers to guard him. We'll even pay for new shackles every time they get shattered. But now, Jesus is harnessing and demonstrating a power so threatening to our hierarchy and our need for control, that we do not even stop to celebrate this man's restoration to a life of wholeness. We are offended! We are angry!
Evidently, it cost more than we considered. Are we sure this man's life is worth 600 pigs? After all, they weren't our demons. Someone owned those pigs. Someone raised those pigs. We were planning to feed our families and to make a huge profit from those pigs! Who is going to compensate for economic impact of our loss? Are we expected to pay for his sins? Why are we required to cover the cost of his restoration?
Well, we are from the west side of the lake. We know about that promise Isaiah was talking about. We were on the boat when Jesus calmed the storm. We witnessed Jesus turning out enough bread to feed 5,000 people. We shouted, "Hosanna" and cried, "Crucify Him." We wept. We peered into the empty tomb. We know the living Christ.
If we, the Church, dare confess Jesus Christ as the Son of our Lord Most Hight, then you tell me, what are we to do with that man in the tombs? I wish I knew his name.
The truth is, at least 50% of us have suffered mental illness, or will, at some point in our lives, and yet fewer than half will ever have access to professional care. More than half of all U.S. counties do not even have a psychiatrist.[viii] Treatment for addiction is such a luxury, that only 10 percent of those with an addiction receive any type of treatment.[ix]
We can hear Martin Luther King Junior ringing in our ears:
Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.[x]
They beg Jesus to leave that town, and the restored man pleads to go with him! But no, he is instructed to stay and share his story of redemption. I imagine he probably had some work to do with his loved ones. Plus, as Moltmann states, "We always start with the belief that [Christ] is my savior and come to [mature] belief that He is the Savior."[xi] The restored man has some Good News to share in a community of unbelievers.
In Christ we find the courage and strength to face our demons together, and by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are called by name and set free. In this Gospel truth, we are called to cross the sea, to the east side, to address the demons of those who have not had access to such power of knowledge of such love. For there is nothing you can do, nowhere you can go, no tomb dark enough, no sin too dirty, and no demon too powerful to separate you from the love of God, in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).
[i] Variations on the French Reformed Church Baptismal Liturgy, www.presbyterianmission.org
[ii] Godsey, John D. Karl Barth's Table Talk. (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1963) p. 38.
[iii] Seelye, K. (Nov. 17, 2016) Franction of Americans with Drug Addiction Receive Treatment, Surgeon General Says. The New York Times: www.nytimes.com.
[iv] National Institute on Drug Abuse. (Dec. 17, 2018): www.drugabuse.gov.
[v] Ahrnsbrak, R. (Sept 2017) Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016: National Survey on Drug Use and Health Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality.
[vi] Understanding the Epidemic. www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/peidemic.
[vii] Moltmann, Jürgen. The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), p. 188.
[viii] Levine, D. (May 28, 2018) What's the Answer to the Shortage of Mental Health Care Providers? US News and World Report: www.health.usnews.com.
[ix] Seelye, K. The New York Times: www.nytimes.com.
[x] King, Martin Luther, Jr. (Aug 17, 1967) "Where Do We Go from Here?" Annual Report Delivered at the 11th Convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference: Atlanta, Georgia.
[xi] Moltmann, Jürgen. An Introduction to Christian Theology. Ed. Douglas Meeks (Duke, 1968), p. 30. Print.