In crossing boundaries to be with us, Jesus destroys every human construction in order to bring God’s grace and mercy into the world. By doing so, the Triune God makes we who are many one.
Vicar Neal Cannon; Time after Pentecost, Sunday 12, year C; texts: Isaiah 65:1-9, Galatians 3:23-29, Luke 8:26-39
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace and peace to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
One thing that never really grabbed my attention until someone pointed this out to me as an adult is that really young kids (think pre-school or younger) don’t particularly care about the accuracy of their drawings. For example, if you give a kid a blank piece of paper and have them draw, most likely what you’ll end up with is a bunch of scribbles that if you were to give it a name you would title it “Chaos Cloud”. But if you asked the kid who drew the picture to tell you what it was, they might tell you that it’s a princess unicorn named Sparkles. The funny thing is, little kids don’t have a care in the world whether or not their drawing looks like a “real” unicorn or not. They are perfectly content with their outside the lines, imperfect rendering of a mythical creature.
To a really little kid it doesn’t usually matter what they’re drawing on either. Whether it’s a blank piece of paper, a coloring book, or construction paper, really young kids are happy making their scribbles and imagining what those scribbles could be, rather than concerning themselves with what it is.
So all this brings up the question, why do we give little kids coloring books? I mean, if little kids are content with making scribbles, why do we give them books where they are asked to color within precise boundaries? One reason, of course, is so they don’t draw on the walls. But another reason we give kids coloring books is for us, so we can understand what they are drawing and be able to say, “What a nice bird”, or “Cinderella”, or “princess unicorn”. We give little kids coloring books to help us understand what we’re looking at.
You see, as adults we have an insatiable (innate) desire to define things. We get immense satisfaction from drawing careful and precise lines in coloring books and in the world. We draw maps of the world’s national borders. We carefully divide our country into red states and blue states. And we create all sorts of social boundaries, norms, and etiquette that help us to draw lines in the sand that help us define what we’re looking at.
In many ways, this is a good thing. It is a God-given gift to be able to name and identify things in our world as they really are, or as Luther would say, “to call a thing what it is”. But sometimes boundaries only serve to divide us and misinform us about each other; creating all sorts of stereotypes and presumptions that serve us in negative ways. Regardless, boundaries can be a source of comfort for adults, which is precisely why Jesus can make us a little bit uncomfortable at times.
Just before our Gospel lesson today is the story of Jesus calming the Sea of Galilee. At the beginning of this story Jesus says to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake”. Now in many ways, this seems like a throw away line, much like the line, “Now they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee,” which begins today’s Gospel lesson.
But to the ancient hearer, these words contain important significance because they give the context of where Jesus is. Most scholars believe the city that Jesus and his disciples land in is either Gergesa or Gedara, both of which were on the “other” side of the Sea of Galilee; both of which were gentile, or non-Jewish cities. In other words, Jesus, a Jewish man and teacher, chooses to go into Gentile land where there were all sorts of unclean things that a Jewish person would be forbidden to touch according to law.
One such law that many of us may be familiar with is that Jewish people aren’t allowed to eat pork or for that matter even touch a pig. Yet the land that Jesus enters is full of swine and swine herders. What’s more, in this story we’re told that Jesus is approached by a man with an unclean spirit, who is naked, and has been living in the tombs among the dead. For Jesus to be in the country of the Gerasenes as a Jewish person is to risk being unclean himself and outside the boundaries of the Jewish religion and the Jewish people.
Our reading from Isaiah reflects the discomfort many in the Jewish faith had towards this Gentile region. Isaiah says, “I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; a people who provoke me to my face continually, sacrificing in gardens and offering incense on bricks; who sit inside tombs, and spend the night in secret places; who eat swine’s flesh, with broth of abominable things in their vessels.” This verse in Isaiah tells the story of a people who live in opposition to God and do all sorts of things that God hates. This is the story of a people who are actively turning away from God, refusing God’s mercy and justice.
In this land that Jesus goes to, he is spiritually and religiously out of bounds. So one might ask, what is Jesus doing here? Jesus is literally in country which is ‘opposite’ to many of the laws and practices that that are acceptable to Judaism. As if to confirm that Jesus is not supposed to be here, as soon as Jesus arrives on the other side of the Sea, a man who embodies the Gentile uncleanliness found in Isaiah, approaches Jesus.
Even this demon-possessed man thinks that Jesus shouldn’t be there. The text tells us that this man says to Jesus, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” What have YOU to do with me? That’s the question that we overlook as a modern audience because we forget that Jesus isn’t supposed to be here. Holy people aren’t supposed to be in Gentile territory, even demons know that.
It’s clear that Jesus knows something that we don’t and sees something that we don’t see. Maybe Jesus understood what immediately follows our text in Isaiah today which says, “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice for ever in what I am creating.”
God is doing something new; God is creating a New Heaven and a New Earth and changing the boundaries along the way. So when Jesus comes into the country of the Gerasenes, maybe he doesn’t see what is, that is, the Old Heaven and the Old Earth. Maybe Jesus sees what could be in the New Heaven and the New Earth. Maybe Jesus is there to create hope, and love, and grace for all who would have it, not just for those within the boundaries.
This sounds like an amazing proposition, to be remade by the grace of God. But our struggle with this is that for the new to come in, first the old has to pass away and sometimes we’re pretty attached to the old.
After the demon possessed man speaks to Jesus for the first time the text says, “for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man,” and it sounds as if Jesus had already commanded the spirit to come out. Yet the demon didn’t come out of the man right away. If Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man before the demon spoke, which the text seems to indicate, why didn’t it happen right away?
One way to look at this is to say that maybe this man is pretty attached to his demons, unwilling to let them go. Think about this from the perspective of the possessed man. This is a man on the fringes of society. This man can’t function normally, he can’t interact with people, he can’t live within the city because he’s a danger to those around him. This is a man who doesn’t fit into Jewish society, he doesn’t fit into Gentile society, and really he doesn’t fit in anywhere.
He’s all alone, so what friends does this man have other than his demons?
Now, this may sound strange but in a way this isn’t too far-fetched from our modern experience. People cling to their demons because it’s all they know. Think of this in terms of addiction. People with drug, alcohol, or any form of addiction aren’t addicts because they think that their drug of choice is good for them and will really benefit their lives and careers. They’re addicts because they’ve become chemically dependent on their drug of choice and can no longer cope in the world around them without that drug, regardless of how their addiction affects others. And so to an addict, the thought of life without the drug is scarier than the thought of life with the drug. In a way, the addict’s demon is their only friend too.
This is true for all of us. Our demons are sometimes our best friends. They are those things in our lives that we hold onto despite the fact that they harm our relationships, our neighbors, our families, our friends, and ourselves. And despite the consequences, we think we cannot cope without them no matter how much they divided us from God and from the world.
For us, the thought of following Jesus is scary because holding onto Jesus means letting go of our demons and the status quo. Unfortunately, we’re comfortable maintaining the status quo because even when the status quo is bad, at least we’re used to it.
But by crossing the sea into a Gentile land, Jesus comes to this tormented man who by law is unclean and out of bounds and casts out his demons. And through Jesus the man is able to embrace a new love, hope, grace, and friendship that says, “God is with you, you don’t need your demons anymore”.
And by following Jesus the boundaries that divide us are destroyed. As St. Paul teaches, Jesus crosses every barrier, boundary and human construction in order to bring healing, salvation, and forgiveness into this world. Jesus crosses the boundaries of divine and human, Gentile and Jew, male and female, slave and free, Democrat and Republican, Garasene and Galilean with the power to make us one.
What an incredible promise to be made one; especially to this Gerasene demoniac named Legion, who was many but was alone.
And what an incredible promise this is for us too – that in Christ our demons are sent out so that we too may embrace a relationship to God. And in this beautiful friendship, the barriers that made us many come tumbling down so that we may be made ONE also and live as a part of God’s new creation.
Thanks be to God.