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. 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”– 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.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. 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. 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. When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 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. Jesus got into the boat to sail away. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him. (Luke 8:27-36)
In our current society and culture, we do not want to talk about demons and evil. That subject has become taboo. We want to believe that demons and evil are things of the past – part of ancient religious or uneducated explanations of unexplainable things in the world. We have become distrustful of religious healers and exorcists and spiritual counselors who pin every distasteful and wicked thing that happens in the world on ‘evil’ and demons. We think we are too sophisticated to allow any evil force to have any influence on us.
And it is true, that, the possession of the man we just heard about in the gospel was probably due to some kind of mental condition. Until late in the 18th century, mental illness was still thought to be a form of possession by a demon. Today we know that it is indeed an illness and treat it as such, instead of locking people away in horrible conditions.
But in Jesus’ time, illness was blamed on demons and evil and sin actually living in and controlling the person. So to cure a person of possession, the healer had to have power not only to name the demon, but power to cast him out, to throw him out of the person’s life.
And this Jesus did for the man. . . made him whole again and a ‘normal’ member of the community.
It is interesting that Jesus forced the demons out of the man into pigs. Pigs, at the time of Jesus, were considered ‘unclean’, something to be avoided and used only for their skins. The Bible explicitly prohibits the eating of any meat from a pig. So what better place to put the demons than an animal that, itself, was shunned and avoided.
This man possessed by demons was not unlike each one of us. We all have our little ‘demons’ that torture us: alcohol, drugs, mental illness, other addictions, greed, materialism, self-doubt. We fight daily to control these demons. Sometimes we are successful, sometimes we are not.
But this story tells us that we are not alone in this struggle. Jesus is there to help us make it through the day and get rid of these demons. Jesus wants to give us the power to name, confront and cast out those demons which control us. Jesus speaks the words that each of us need to hear, the words of healing.
First, in order to get rid of our ‘demons’ we must name them – very much like an alcoholic must say ‘Hello, my name is. . . and I am an alcoholic. We are all ‘possessed’ by some demon that keeps us from being whole. We need to be honest with ourselves and name and acknowledge that demon. Say it loud and clear, not under our voices so no one can hear. If we proclaim the demon and it begins to have less power over us.
Secondly, we need to confess and apologize for any harm we have done to other – and even to ourselves. We have to forgive ourselves. We can’t expect others to forgive us if we can’t even forgive ourselves. You can proclaim the demon, but until you release its grip on you by forgiving and being forgiven, it still has it claws in you.
And lastly, we need to remember and embrace the love Jesus has for each of us. Remember that God loves each one of us, warts and all. That He sent His Son to die for us and for our sins. We are loved by the sheer grace of God. . . no matter who we are, what demons we are haunted by.
NO MATTER WHAT!!
Then, just as Jesus sent the man back home to tell what God had done for him, we must be messengers of that good news. Just as Jesus dared to be seen with the “wrong” people in the “wrong” places at the “wrong” times, we are to do that also. We do it because we know what it is to be released, even if we continue to struggle, with our demons in life.
Proclaiming the good news that Jesus is breaking the bounds of the demonic powers that hold us. Jesus can still the storm, walk on water, raise the dead and liberate the possessed. We gather to hear the words, to learn the words to speak to those around us who are possessed. We, when we are healed, hold the keys which will bring others the healing that they need. Then they will become the people God created them to be and we will also. Then the forces of evil are destroyed.
The “still small voice” of God declares that we are loved, chosen, accepted in spite of our personal demons. Jesus died for us so that we would understand how much we are loved. We matter for who we are. No one can be YOU and live your life but YOU!
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 23 June 2013