By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
June 23, 2019
Luke 8:26–39 (ESV)
Jesus Heals a Man with a Demon
26 Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” 29 For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time 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 desert.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. 31 And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. 32 Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned.
34 When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and 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 And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from 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.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.
Scripture is filled with many stories. Stories that mystify and stories that rip our hearts out of our chests. There are stories that inspire us to pursue a different life and stories that cause us to wonder what is going on in the world. Today’s passage is like so many, at first glance we are amazed at the power of Christ. We read it and we sometimes wonder why we do not see these things today. We ask these things, because we want to see the miraculous, but have you ever allowed this passage to enter your imagination? Look at the description of the scene.
If we were to look back a few verses, we would know that just prior to this selection, Jesus and his disciples had crossed the Sea of Galilee. During this voyage a storm hit, a storm that had the people in the boat scared. We live in an area of the United States that experiences storms. We know storms intimately, they come to visit nearly every night. Just this week areas of the metro experienced something known as a gustnado. This meteorological phenomenon develops when the atmospheric pressures are such that the air moves through the area with such force that the straight winds can cause as much damage as a tornado. I have lived through these storms, I have seen these storms crush a factory building like an empty pop can. The disciples were afraid of the storm as they were crossing the sea, and in a moment Jesus calmed that storm. With a simple phrase, “peace be still.” he rebuked the wind and looked at the disciples and asked where their faith was.
They get to the shore, and they get out of the boat. He walks up the hill and what exactly does he see? When I imagine the scene, my mind often see the picturesque views of Israel that many of our friends are seeing now. But the scene was not like that. This shore was the location of tombs and herds of swine. How many of you have ever been in an area with swine herds?
While driving our students to came we pass through the Kansas tall grass prairie. These rolling hills of grass with so many cattle we cannot count them. These cattle walk the hills eating grass, and they move on to the next hill. Pigs are not like cattle. When swine herd together they root around in the ground, they eat the grass, the roots, they dig deep to get insects and worms. Cattle only eat the leaves, where the swine being omnivores eat anything. When the swine herd they tear the ground up leaving it in ruins. They come through foraging as they go and they leave behind them destruction. Mud and feces, disease and desolation. In the middle of this desolation were tombs. The resting place of the dead. And within these was a man.
Jesus steps off of the boat into a pasture of destruction. Flies swarm because of the slurry of decay. Jesus had just calmed a storm and looked the disciples in the eyes and asked where is your faith. And when they take a step off the boat the smell and environment speak not of faith but of desolation. And they meet a man.
I want us to picture this scene. Do not think of it as the beautiful scenery we see on the tourism brochures from Israel, but as it was, something little better than a muddy landfill of garbage. And in this squalor one man lived his life. He lived there among the dead in the tombs. Due to his condition and poverty of every kind he lives without even clothes to cover his body. He is a man that has problems. Scripture tells us that the main source of his problems is that demons keep a grip of his life. I do not know exactly what this is fully. I have seen Hollywood depictions of this phenomenon but I really do not think this is accurate. But I have see people that are in altered states of consciousness, some of these were self inflicted by the use of illicit drugs and others were caused by some imbalance of the body’s chemistry. In each of these cases you do not know exactly what might happen. You do not know what a person might do or say. You do not know what their reaction might be to your words or actions. Your heart is pumping so hard that you feel as if it might break your ribs, and standing in front of you is a person you thought you knew yet they are not there. It is as if they are someone else.
We do not know exactly what might be wrong with this man. He might have an issue with addictive substances. The ancient people did know about plants that could cause changes to the mind and maybe this man was one that had lost self-control. Maybe he was a man suffering from some sort of personality disorder which caused him to lose control of himself. Maybe what is called demon possession is actually what scripture says, a malevolent being has entered and taken control of this individual. What we do know for sure is that the people this community feared him. He lived in the tombs and we are told that the community would put him in chains and keep him under guard. But when the demons took hold of him he would often break the chains and be driven out into the wilderness.
Jesus steps out of the boat. He looks up to the hills surrounding them, he takes a shuttering breath as the stench reaches his nose and his eyes fall upon a naked man cowering in the shadows of a tomb. Jesus takes a step forward, wiping his sandal on a tuft of grass because he stepped lovely residues left by the herd of swine in the hills. The disciples are hesitant. Because everything about this place is unclean. The moment they step out of the boat they will be unable to enter a synagogue without purification. Jesus boldly leaps, and his disciples are forced to prove their faith. Do they follow their Rabbi even into the darkness of these unclean depths?
When we look at this passage usually the first thing that we notice healing of the man. This I agree is the most important part of the story. But I want to look at something that we might not always recognize. How did this man get into the place he was in? How many of us have ever asked this question? We usually look at this passage and we see the man that is possessed with a legion of demons but do we wonder how ended up naked living the embodied life of the living dead?
It really begins with the community. This man did not exist in a vacuum. There were people that lived around him, that knew who he was. Many ancient religions had rites to deal with those preceved to be possessed by demons. The Jewish faith is no different. They had rites and rituals that they were encouraged to perform. The uniqueness of the disciples’ ministry was not so much that they could liberate people from the grips of possession, but they they were not the right people to do this sort of thing. They were not religious leaders or priests. In the mind of the religious elites these men should not have the power or authority to administer the rites of exorcism. The problem I see is that no one in this community was capable of doing this work. The worst thing about it is that it almost sounds as if no one really even cared to try. They locked the man in chains and appointed someone to guard him.
I thought about this as I was studying. The solution to the problem of a possessed man was not to seek help, but to lock him up. There is not a single indication that the community had any concern about the well-being of this man, only that he was to be kept chained in isolation among the dead. In essence they sealed their troubles away, to be forgotten so they could focus on the more important things at hand. And those things were the production and sale of products considered unclean by the larger society.
As I was writing this I was having trouble getting my mind around what my heart was really urging me to say. In my vain attempts of centering I simply gave up and decided a movie was in order. I could not even decide what movie I wanted to watch so I was flipping through Netflix and Amazon, finding nothing. Thousands of movies and TV shows, and nothing to watch. I finally went to a channel on my system I rarely open, Faithlife TV. This channel has many documentaries about many things of faith, I signed up for it for two reasons. The first is because they are the distributor of the movie “Tortured for Christ” which is derived from the book of the same name by Richard Wurmbrand. This man was sent to prison for preaching the Gospel and distributing bibles and would later start the organization The Voice of the Martyrs. The second reason I signed up for the channel is because they had a documentary called “Aliens and Demons.” Which one biblical scholar to connect UFO sightings to possible biblical demonic activities. I won’t spoil the show but it was not as good as I hoped. Well I was in a state of discomfort unable to direct may mind and not able to center so I opened this channel and began to watch a movie I never really remembered, “The Cross and the Switchblade.”
Many of us have either watched or read this book. Which is about the ministry of David Wilkerson with the gangs of New York City, and later started the ministry Teen Challenge. As I watched this movie which is actually very disturbing, I got to thinking about the passage about this demon-possessed man living in the tombs. The inner city is filled with people just like him. People the larger society would rather lock up and forget about. People more concerned with making money off the unclean things the outside society would rather act as if are not really there. And I thought about Jesus stepping out of the boat into a place like that.
Jesus took his disciples across the sea into the area of their nation no good Jewish person would go. He went right into the most disgusting part of that area right into the pig fields beside the tombs, and he found that one man who everyone locked away hoping would be forgotten. And Jesus tormented the demons within. I often hear people of faith speaking about the world today, saying how ungodly it is and how disgusted they are about what goes on. How many of us have taken a step out of the boat? How many of us have gotten our feet dirty and walked along the pathways of life with those who we would rather just forget exist?
David Wilkerson was a small church pastor in Pennsylvania when he saw a picture of gang members in Life magazine in 1958. One man had compassion for those many of us would call the most worthless people in our society. He saw them as people, people loved by God. He left his small safe Pennsylvania church and went to New York. He ministered and encouraged those threatened by the gang lifestyles, he helped those who had addictions, and he made a difference. The ministries he started continue today and they still minister to addicts and seek to provide a different lifestyle for people in the inner city. One man got off the boat into the land of shadows, and he provided hope for the hopeless, life for those gripped in the hands of death. What would we do? Would we let the man stay naked and chained or would we offer hope?
The disciples were on the boat during a storm and Jesus calmed that storm alleviating the fear that they felt. Now they face demons on the shore, the question still remains “Where is your faith?” As we center down and enter a time of open worship and communion in the manner of Friends let us consider not only the power of Christ, but also the power of our community. We as a community have the power to encourage or discourage those around us. We can either chant lock them up or God loves. Where is our faith?