Last Sunday after worship I sped home, packed quickly, and jumped in the car to head to a retreat week at Rainy Lake. Just before leaving I grabbed a Bible, and read the words we hear this Sunday, of God’s impatience with people who are focused on themselves more than on God, of our unity in Christ that amazes us, and of the man living among the tombs in the region of Gerasenes.
Putting the Bible in my bag I thought, boy, that reading will seem out of place on a quiet island removed from such scenes. Hopping the car and pulling away from Hovland, I expected a quiet drive of classical music to ease me into a time of quiet conversations, reading, studying the Gospel, learning from others.
But the radio for 5 hours told of Orlando, and the deep tragedy there. As if it was shrieking at me, shouting at me, and I was chained to car and to listening.
So arriving, and a day later, looking again at the Gospel, I was,
startled in a way I would not have been, unnerved in way I would not have been....
but in the passage, while the man possessed is unnerved, and the disciples, and the people of the region, Jesus is not.
Now, a quick catchup to where Jesus has come to this region from. He has been preaching and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God to cities and villages on the east side of the lake called Galilee, in Jewish territory, where mostly there live those, who like him, are Jewish. And his preaching and good news kept showing new ways to think of just what that means, the kingdom of God.
And then, one day, his mother and siblings seem to want to draw him aside, perhaps not to appear quite so forward, quite so outlandish.
And Jesus says,
my mother, my sisters, my brothers who those who hear the of God and do it.
says, “let us go across to the other side of the lake...”and they set out for foreing territory, across the lake named Galilee that soon is ripped by wind and waves ...and finally Jesus spoke: blowing stopped, waves stopped. calm prevailed.
But the disciples were still in fear...saying to one another, “who then is this, that he commands even the wind and the water and they obey him?
And then, the boat lands, at the region opposite to Galilee...Opposite geographically, culturally, religously...this was not a region of Jewish communities, but Gentiles, those who did not believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jesus...
On this side, people followed Roman Empire ways, worshipped many Gods, including an array of emperors and natural forces and natures components that might at any time strike against the people. Very opposite from the faith of the Jews and the kingdom of God Jesus brings.
And as the foot of Jesus steps from boat to shore, there shows up a man of the city who had demons.
“Of the city” implies protection of city walls, civility—but no longer for this man. He’s been outside of protection for a long time—has worn no clothes, lived among the tombs. And SHOUTS !
Shrieking now, but, even at a newcomer, whose foot strikes shore.
What a surprise it would have been to those with Jesus, the shrieking, but maybe even more so, what the words are!
“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the most high God.”
Wait ! This man who seems filled with demons has seen what the disciples have not! He not only sees Jesus and seems to already know his name, but rec ognizes Jesus for who he is, Son of God most high who brings the kingdom of God into our midst.
And then, those other words. “I beg you do not torment me.” Remember the disciples, and we in our reading theses generations later, have known Jesus to be one who heals and fills and eases people into new settings. But this, “do not torment me..” directed at Jesus seems....wrong.
How unacceptable this would have seemed. To those there in the region of Gerases, and to disciples. Unacceptable (a man being naked, a man living among the dead, or non-Jew speaking to Jew, an out of control shrieking out words to a never before met newcomer, and even these particular words: “What have you to do with me? Son of the Most High God” and even “do not torment me...”
To everyone this setting would have seemed unacceptable, in this shouting terrorizing situation where a man who could break literally in rage break chains storms about, naked, before strangers, with strange words. But unacceptable as it would seem, to Jesus it was not.
He accepted it at what it was, a plea for no more tormenting, to not make things worse, a plea that shows that the man thought unacceptable launched at Jesus who he recognized as the one who can stop what rages, wind, seas, demons.
What a fearful time. So fearful that even when the demons are displaced, the people around the region are still in fear. Now not of the man who had been trapped in what had overcome him...but of the power of Jesus to unsettle what had seemed to be the way things would be, the ways that even though unacceptable had become accepted...this man kept away, chained at times among the tombs, left to live or die in the open. But now, clothed and in his right mind, he was so different.
What had happened...and then what happened when the livestock of the community (livestock of pigs, so we know this is not a region of Jewish settlements), dashes into the sea.
Jesus comes into the midst of life that seems so tenuous and fearful and in ways we rarely understand breaks the bonds of what holds us away from the best of ourselves and from the best for others.
Fear. Orlando tragedy.
Or the woman I met who told of a time she’d awoken from a middle of the night nightmare, to find herself across the floor and opposite from the bed she’d gone to sleep in. The shrieking she’d heard was hers in her nightmare. She’d been trapped in the nightmare, and became unlike herself, struggling to get out and away. My nightmare had me feeling I’d been trapped and taken over.”
Fearful times...years ago someone told me of their mental illness, which at times had been severe (to put it mildly). She said she awoke one day to finding herself shrieking as she was being carried into the ER: naked, screaming, and tied down. Afraid of herself, and her illness which there is no way to comprehend. Her description was, “it felt like demons, I suppose, but was mental illness, which is either more complicated, or less. Either from disease we don’t understand, or demons seeking to outdo God.” Fearful times.
Nightmares can seem so real. Mental illness is so real, so biologically and medically true. Life fear times are real: from war, from being a minority poorly treated and oppressed, from being threatened by bullying spouses, parents, leaders, by weapons intended not for recreation but for damage, from being out for an evenings entertainment and having someone come in with the desire and means of rage and weapons to kill.
And real too, is the fearsomeness of satan... who so likes to get in the midst of any fear, and drive us deeper into fear. Away from trust in God. Forward to trusting first our own right, then our own might rather than the God who comes to put his foot on the land of our lives, and who says, awaken in your right mind, clothed in me, in unity with others, that peace may thrive. And trust, that even in the times of deepest fear, I am with you. Now and always.
It aint easy becoming a follower of Jesus, being a believer who tries to become a Christian---which is all any of us are doing. It aint easy because we’d sometimes find it easier to say as the people in Garasene did, please, just get out of my way with all that talk of peace and caring and not doing what was done to us.
But Jesus says to us, proclaim how much God has done for you!