BIBLE READING: Luke 8: 26-39
This story of the “Gerasene demoniac” is found in the Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke, and each version has different embellishments and exaggerations and lots of local colour.
At the centre of the story we discover the man possessed by all those demons. He is somebody we all have seen, somebody we may know. And he’s somebody who asks us to look at ourselves.
He’s a man who has lost himself. He had been “a man of the city” known to his neighbours, a member of the community. But now he lives in death, “among the tombs” Luke says, out beyond the city walls. He has nothing, no home, no clothes, no name any more. He has no voice. When he opens his mouth, only the shrieks of the demonic come out. He is lost to himself and shattered into unrecognisable pieces of his former humanity. He is at the mercy of powers beyond his control, driven to the brink of existence.
In Luke’s story, Jesus runs into this man just as he gets off the boat — he’s just sailed over from Galilee, and it was a stormy crossing. In the face of that storm, Jesus is the source of calm. And now here’s another storm, swirling around this man who cries out to Jesus. And what does Jesus do? Jesus reaches through his torment and asks his name. “What is your name?”
Jesus gives the man an identity again, or tries to, and the healing begins. Again, it’s not the details of that healing that make this story worth re-telling, it’s the human reach, and touch, at the heart of it. As in almost all the healing stories, Jesus reaches across the cultural taboos against illness — he even travels across the sea, beyond the familiar territory of the Galilee. Jesus reaches across the isolation and separation so characteristic of illness, and calms the storms in this man, speaking to him and treating him like a human being.
And here’s where the story becomes our story — if it wasn’t already. We see the man sitting at Jesus’ feet, demoniac-turned-disciple, “clothed and calm in his mind” Luke tells us. We have a living, breathing example of what Jesus was talking about in his first sermon at Nazareth, when he said that he had come to release those in bondage and liberate the oppressed. And we have a choice about how to respond.
In the story, the people from the town respond with fear. The unexpected has happened in their midst and they don’t like it. They pack Jesus back into his boat and wave him off with relief. Too much change when he’s around; best to keep a lid on things. So that’s one choice we have, in the face of the unexpected: fear, and a return to the familiar, even when it means the chains that bind us.
The man restored to wholeness responds in another way. He becomes a disciple. He wants to stay next to Jesus, but Jesus sends him off, to tell his story of healing. And so he goes, embracing his new life and proclaiming the good news of his liberation.
How do we respond to the possibility of healing in our lives, our institutions, our communities: do we choose to hold fast to the old ways, or do we step forward into liberation?
Acknowledgement: Anne Howard