By the Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
June 24, 2007
Read: Luke 8:26-39
The Gerasene Demoniac. Stories like this in the Bible tend to make us uncomfortable in our day and age. The idea of demons or evil has been explained away by science and medicine in many cases. But evil is real. In the introduction to his book, the Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis says that the devil is equally pleased by two very different mistakes that people make. The first mistake is to make too much of the devil, as people did during the Inquisition and the witch trials. The second mistake is to make too little of him, as we tend to do today. The word “evil” seems so old-fashioned – but we really can’t read a newspaper or watch the news on tv without being reminded that evil is very much with us today.
So what is our definition of evil. Well, it seems to me that evil is whatever forces work to keep us out of relationship with God. Forces that oppose God. Forces that convince us that we don’t really need God in our lives. That we can depend on ourselves and our own strength to make it through our life.
Look at the Gerasene Demoniac. Jesus met him at the shore the minute he stepped off of the boat. Jesus didn’t come into the middle of town, or into the middle of a settled farmland. He came into the liminal space—the in-between—between town and country, between farmland and desert, between land and sea, between life and death (remember the demoniac lived among the tombs). And Jesus spoke to the man, and the demons, who inhabited that liminal space. That space outside of the community.
Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” In biblical times, names carried more value and importance than they do today. Not only may a name identify, but it frequently expressed the essential nature of its bearer, in other words, to know the name was to know the person. This man responded, “Legion”, for many demons had entered him. A legion is a Roman army unit of about six thousand soldiers and it symbolized the Roman “occupying forces whose power was overwhelming and whose presence meant the loss of control over every dimension of their own society” (Nickel, 120).
So, this demoniac’s response tells us the extent of the forces arrayed against Jesus – that they are many and powerful. It also tells us that the man has lost his very identify to the demons. He bears their name and is controlled by their power. “all that was left was a boiling struggle of conflicting forces. It was as though a Roman legion was at war within him” (Culpepper, 188).
This story also tells us of the power of Jesus. These demons recognized Jesus and begged Jesus not to send them back to the abyss. They knew Jesus had power over them. And that is indeed good news for all of us….that Jesus has power over evil.
Remember that I am suggesting that evil is any force that separates us from relationship with God and with each other, as children of God. Evil forces oppose God. This crazy man who had lost his identity to the demons was separated from community. He was living among the tombs in liminal space. The community had tried to keep him under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he broke free and lived in the wild. Alone. Independent. Self-supporting. And the community became used to that. Notice that when Jesus drove out the demons and the man was in his right mind, they became afraid. It became confusing to know how to incorporate this man back into their community. What should they say? How should they act? What might he do now? Fear dictated their actions and they asked Jesus to leave them. So Jesus got back into his boat and left them.
We, also, are faced with choices today and we are sometimes driven by our fear to actions that lead us away from our relationship with God. There are other stories in the Bible where individuals are afraid. Mary was afraid when the angel came to her. The disciples were often afraid at different times in their life with Jesus but they did not allow their fear to separate them from Jesus. We are called to do the same.
In our experiences in life when we are afraid, when we feel all alone remember that Jesus has power over those dark, evil forces in our lives. We can get through these times knowing that the love of God, the light of Christ, is present. There is no force so profoundly bleak that Christ cannot break and enter bringing forgiveness and light and acceptance. There is no land so distant, no sin so grievous, no crime so heinous, no heart so black that Jesus Christ cannot shine forth in all the love of heaven to bring peace and wholeness at last.
C. S. Lewis once wrote that, and this is paraphrased, when all the evil of the world is rolled up into one giant dark, crusty and gloopy ball, it would not have the weight of half a grain of sand in heaven.
So, today we hear good news, indeed! We need not ever be afraid of the darkness that lurks in the corners of our lives or out on the fringe of society, in those liminal places, because actually, remarkably and of course, illogically, that is just where Jesus Christ is! We may even be called to seek out those dark places – not simply to bring the light of Christ’s love there – but to meet Christ there ourselves. Jesus calls us to himself. Jesus calls us into relationship with God and with each other. Do not be afraid. Amen.
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