Trinity 1 2022 Proper 7 Year C Luke 8 :26-39
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be now and always acceptable in your sight : O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Who then is this, that he commands the winds and the water, and they obey him?
So ends the incident immediately before our gospel reading: Jesus has just stilled the storm on the lake and saved his disciples from perishing. Immediately as he steps on shore he is met by the demon-possesed man who has no such doubts. “ What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the most high God?” Even though he is a gentile, he knows who Jesus is, and he is just one of several people in gospels who show that it is sometimes the outsiders (rather than the insiders) who seem able recognise Jesus for he who he really is.
We are immediately catapulted headlong into the frightening scenario of the demented and raving man , his encounter with the Lord…………… the Lords’ interaction with the demons that are swirling within him………….. and their surprising and equally alarming despatch into herd of swine which hurl themselves over the bank and are drowned.
It is a frightening scene which it is difficult for our modern minds to credit – we would put the poor man’s condition down to some serious mental illness or derangement, (not to demons or the like), the remedy being perhaps therapy combined with some kind of medical intervention, but in the end who knows? There are more things in heaven and earth than we know about, and there is more than enough evidence of disordered forces at work in our world.
The man’s name is “Legion”, for many demons had entered him. One translation has : “Legion, for we are many”. This points to our divided selves, for which one of us is not a mixture of motley and opposing desires, drives and behaviours? A curious blend of forces of both integration and disintegration, as a psychologist might put it.
It is only in Christ that our divided selves are reconciled and made one, to paraphrase St Paul.
The surprising denoument is that the man from whom the demons have gone out is found siting at the feet of Jesus clothed and in his right mind, and this is too much for the locals to cope with. Who knows what else the Jewish teacher might change, and so upset the established order of things which they have become accustomed to. Who else might lose some valuable property, just as the owner of the swine had seen his entire investment destroyed? No wonder they are afraid. And so they ask Jesus to leave them.
Whatever we make of this extraordinary story (and it is an extraordinary story if we take it at face value)……… we can draw courage and inspiration from the radical and utter change in the demon-possessed man. What was turbulent, disordered and disintegrated has become calm, ordered and integrated.
I think that the formerly possessed man’s request to Jesus that he might be with him ( he begs that he might be with him) is a most moving one; he is just so grateful ,that he just wants to be with him for ever; but the Lord sends him away saying; “ return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.” The active work of evangelism on the road with Jesus is not to be for him; his will be the even harder task of convincing those with whom he lives of how much God has done for him, even though it must be quite obvious to all and sundry that he has been healed………………………..
Whatever we make of all this we can certainly take away with us the image of the man begging to be with Jesus, which we could take as an image of the Christian spiritual journey.
In the gospels, many spend some time “being with Jesus”. Some willingly and some less so. We think of Mary, Martha and Lazarus of Bethany…… the disciples on the mount of transfiguration…… John the beloved disciple reclining close to the Lord at the Last Supper……. the disciples in the garden of Gethsemane……. Mary at the foot of the cross: the disciples at Emmaus.
In some instances, those involved try to capture or hold onto the experience of being with Jesus, even where it has been uncomfortable; after the resurrection the Lords’s injunction is not to hold on to him.
Do not hold onto me. Prayer and the spiritual journey involve both a desire to adhere closely to God, and a loose grip at the same time, lest what is grasped at or clutched slips through our fingers. Desire, willingness and a light touch there must be simultaneously.
I’ll close with some words from the Imitation of Christ : immortal words of Thomas a Kempis
“Then will The Lord say to me : If thou are willing to be with me, I am willing to be with thee. And I will answer Him: Vouchsafe, O Lord, to remain with me, for I will gladly be with Thee. This is my whole desire, that my heart be united unto Thee. Unlike that man in the gospel, we have the great joy and blessing of being with Jesus, of working with him, and of telling others of the great things he has done for us. All it takes is the willingness and readiness to do all these things. Amen