The Blue Mountains Franciscan Church
Sermon preached at Springwood on Sunday 19th June 2016.
FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST. YR C.
Gospel: Luke 8:26-39
As [Jesus] 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 . . . Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him.
There was a little old lady who would come out every morning on the steps of her front porch, raise her arms to the sky and shout, “Praise the Lord!”. One day an atheist moved into the house next door. Over time he became irritated at the little old lady. Every morning he would step out onto his front porch and yell after her, “There is no Lord”.
Time passed, and the two of them carried on that way every day. One morning in the middle of winter, the little old lady stepped onto her front porch and shouted, “Praise the Lord! Lord, I have no food and I am starving. Please provide for me, oh Lord!”
The next morning, she stepped out onto her porch and there were two huge bags of groceries sitting there. “Praise the Lord!” she cried out. “He has provided groceries for me!” The atheist jumped out of the hedges and shouted, “There is no Lord. I bought those groceries!”
The little old lady threw her arms into the air and shouted, “Praise the Lord! He has provided me with groceries, and He made the devil pay for them!”
May I speak in the Name of the One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Biblical scholar Jeffrey Johns nicely sums up a key insight into the text on the Gerasene demoniac: “The miracle story is not just about a personal exorcism. It is about the promise of God’s ability to defeat and re-order the disordered powers that afflict individuals and communities” (The Meaning in the Miracles, 91).
If you entered “location of exorcism in Luke 8:26 and Mark 5:1-20 in Google Maps, at least three pin drops would pop up. Gergesa, Gerasa, and Gedara. Mark (and Luke in following his lead) chooses Gerasa. It had become famous as the location of a Jewish revolt brutally put down by the Roman Army in 67 A.D. Vespasian’s general, Lucius Annius, slaughtered 1,000 rebels who were besieged in Gerasa and then destroyed it and surrounding villages.
The demoniac is called by the Latin name “Legion,” referring to a company of up to 6,000 Roman soldiers. This strongly suggests that Mark linked the exorcism of the evil powers occupying the demoniac with acts of Roman oppression. The demons’ preference for pigs is because of the animal’s negative association in Judaism. The association of a Roman legion with a herd of pigs was a priceless piece of irony (Jeffrey John, The Meaning in the Miracles, 86).
Luke, following Mark’s lead, identifies Roman military might with the supernatural powers that are behind all systems of violent oppression. Today we would want to refer the demoniac for immediate treatment for multiple schizophrenism, but here possession is a symbol of the oppression of one culture by another. Personal exorcism becomes symbolic of corporate liberation from oppression. The exorcism breaks the demonic spell that keeps the individual dependent upon the dominant power (86). As we hear the hooves of the pigs clicking toward the sea, the message is that even the power of Rome will ultimately be no match for the liberating power of God in Christ.
Luke seems to understate the eeriness of this scene. A madman – naked, given to violent seizures, left to stalking cemeteries, deprived of family, friends and identity – shouts at Jesus as he is going by. When Jesus meets the man, the demons themselves speak. Once Jesus had subjugated them, they beg to enter into a nearby herd of pigs, which then rush down the hillside into the lake where they drown.
This story reflects a common theme of Luke’s Gospel: Jesus’ compassion trumps religious practice and social convention. The psychotic man, considered “unclean” and ritually impure to religious Jew, is condemned to live among the tombs. In Luke’s account (unlike Matthew and Mark’s version of the story), Jesus commands the spirits to leave him before the man can ask Jesus for healing.
In demanding to know the name of the demons, Jesus demonstrates his authority over them. In ancient thought, to know a name was to exercise control, and the demons freely surrender to Jesus’ authority, realizing that they must be obedient to him. As I have already explained what the name Legion is, the technical term for a division of the Roman military, usually consisting of about five thousand troops; thus the name suggests a horde of demons possessing the man. For Jesus’ Jewish hearers, pigs epitomized both paganism and their hated Roman occupiers. Rather than return to the “abyss” (the realm of Satan), the demons ask that they be allowed to enter the pigs on the nearby hillside; Jesus agrees, but then plummets the herd into the lake, visible proof that the demons have left the man once and for all.
The man, now healed, is sent by Jesus to proclaim the goodness of God throughout the town, becoming one of the first Gentile missionaries. But those who witness this exorcism are terrified at the power of this Jesus and ask him to leave.
We all have our demons distracting us from the things of God; we are all “possessed” by fear, despair and cynicism. Yet we hesitate to be rid of them – we have become secure and comfortable in our own little worlds, with our demons protecting them. Christ comes to exercise our demons that we may be made new and whole in the limitless compassion of God.
Jesus and the Gospel he preaches terrifies us. While we readily embrace the peace and comfort of Jesus’ words, we shy away from the demands of the Gospel: selflessness, humility, detachment from the material. Authentic faith demands that we be willing to follow not only the good and gentle Jesus but the suffering and crucified Jesus, as well.
Jesus’ authority is not an “authority” constructed of legend and celebrity. His authority over good and evil is centred in the selfless, limitless and unconditional love of God and the spirit of humility that seeks to put the power of one’s “authority” at the service of others.
- John, J, 2001. The Meaning in the Miracle. 1st ed. United Kingdom: Canterberry Press. (p91)
- Google Books. 2016. The Meaning in the Miracles – Jeffrey John – Google Books. [ONLINE] Available at: Google Books scanned copy[Accessed 20 June 2016].