Fifth Weekend after Pentecost: "Who is this then?"
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 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. 28 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"— 29 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.) 30 Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" He said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. 32 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. 33 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. 34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 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. 36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 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. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." So had he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus done for him.
I LOVE this story! It’s got EVERYTHING! –a naked man living in the cemetery for starters; (picture that out back!); Demons (legions of them!) But, my personal favorite, hands down, are the pigs- whoops!-slip sliding right down the bank into the lake. Those pigs are a big hint that we’re in Gentile territory now, since there are no Jewish pig farmers. Religiously speaking, that would make this an unclean place for Jesus and any other self-respecting Rabbi. And, those pigs actually belong to somebody and they are none too happy about losing them. So add to this already crazy scene, a crowd of angry pig farmers, who run off and tell everybody what just happened, getting them all fired up. When they come back (I’m picturing torches and pitchforks) and see the man they used to know as the village idiot, seated at Jesus feet, fully clothed and in his right mind, they are “seized with great fear”, which is about as afraid as you can get without having a heart attack. They tell Jesus to hit the road, Jack and don’t let the door hit you on the way out, which is not the first time Jesus has been chased out of a town. Whenever I try to visualize this story it always comes up in my mind’s eye as a cartoon. It’s so bizarre! (Sorry Lord )
There certainly are some serious parts of this story, but first, let’s step back for a minute because I don’t want you to miss an important underlying theme emerging over these last several weeks that we’ve been immersed in the Gospel of St Luke, Chapter 7. And by the way, we’re going to stay immersed in the Gospel of St. Luke until Thanksgiving weekend, which is the first Sunday of Advent and the start of a new church year. We may jump around the book of Luke in the coming months, but this week, I think it’s important to realize that the stories of the last few weeks have been right in sequence from Luke 7, with little or nothing being left out from one week’s reading to the next.
While you and I, as Easter people, know full well who Jesus really is, the people in these Gospel readings have no clue who Jesus is. I find it helpful to put myself in their shoes and imagine one of my friends, (one of you!) who starts healing the lame, giving sight to the blind, breathing life into the dead-WHOA!-what’s going on here? Who is this then? And that’s the recurring question in these early chapters of Luke. Who is this then?
And everywhere Jesus goes, he is healing scores of anonymous people whose stories we don’t even get to hear. Without any help from the internet, word is spreading like wildfire about this man Jesus.
Flashback to Luke 3: Remember John the Baptizer’s words: “I baptize you with water but one more powerful is coming and I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Well, John’s disciples, like everybody else is, hearing the buzz about Jesus’ healings and they report these stories back to John. John the Baptizer then dispatches 2 of his followers to seek Jesus out and when they find him, they ask him point blank: Are you THAT GUY? Are you the ONE? He doesn’t answer yes or no, but in signs and here are just a few:
· Jesus heals a sick slave with just a word, at the request of a Roman centurion, no less, who happens to have a very deep faith; “Who is this then that can heal the sick with just a word?
· Without even being asked, out of compassion, Jesus restores the life of a widow’s only son and gives him back to his mother; “Who is this then that can carry this young man from death into life?”
· When an uninvited dinner guest is so bold and courageous to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears and anoint his feet with oil, her checkered past is now a clean slate; “Who is this then who forgives sins?”
· And on the way to Geresenes, a terrible storm blows in and Jesus boat nearly capsizes. His disciples think they are going to die. He calms the wind and the water and his own disciples, his closest friends, look at one another and ask “Who is this then that commands the wind and the water?”
As they step out of that boat, the first thing they see is the naked man, and his demons, who not only recognize Christ and call out to him, but start negotiations with Jesus, which might be the strangest part of this story. Before this long day is over, Jesus is being chased out of town. As He sails off into the sunset, I’m wondering just what was the purpose of this long day’s adventure to an unclean land; to cast off unclean spirits from a man who lives in, according to Jewish rituals, the unclean tombs; just to be chased out of town? Well, if nothing else, we’re a little clearer now that there’s no place too unclean for Jesus, no matter what his little Rabbi handbook says. Yes, there is nowhere that God is not willing to go to reach and free and sustain and heal those who are broken and despairing. More importantly, there is no person that is God-forsaken: be they unclean; Outcast; Abandoned; Unpopular; Refugee; Incarcerated; Unbeliever. No one is left out. “All of us are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
I’ve noticed that wherever Jesus goes it seems he leaves crowds of people either shocked or amazed, and sometimes, like the pig farmers in today’s gospel, “seized with great fear”. In every story though, there is someone whose life is changed, someone who is so grateful for what Jesus has done for them that they will never be the same. The man in today’s Gospel, freed of his demons, begs to stay with Jesus. He wants to be one of the disciples. But Jesus says, “no – but I do have a missionary position open with your name on it”. Although Jesus tells the man to go and declare all that God has done for you, the man goes off proclaiming all that Jesus has done for him. I’m thinking that he’s got a good handle on who Jesus is. He may not have the Trinity concept down pat yet, but he definitely has the God the Father, God the Son part down, so he’s light-years ahead of most of the others.
I’m not ending this by telling you that Jesus is able to free us from our demons, whatever they may be. Hopefully, you already know that. Maybe, like me, you’ve even experienced it. My prayer for us today is that we never forget all that God has done for us in Christ Jesus. Sometimes I wish there were a nice long break after we hear the words “Do this in remembrance of me” so I could truly remember all the times that Jesus healed my broken heart, my broken spirit, sometimes my broken body; time to ponder the gift of forgiveness, the promise of eternal life.
I pray that we take Jesus parting words to heart: “Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you” - Because, you know what? Some things never change. Just like in the early chapters of the Gospel of St. Luke, in this broken world, there are a lot of people who have heard the name Jesus, but so many still don’t have a clue who he really is. God is counting on us to tell them. Amen.