2nd Sunday After Pentecost
S. Pentecost 2.22 “Go Away, Jesus!” Luke 8:26-39
“Go way, Jesus!” This seems to be the general consensus of the Gerasenes (whoever they were) that Jesus is hanging out with today in our Gospel. Now our first question today is: “Why would anyone want Jesus to go away, and leave them alone?” And our second question will be, “Isn’t it great no one we know behaves like that!”?
Maybe one question before our first question (question zero?) is who are the Gerasenes? Well there was an ancient town called Gerasa (also spelled Gergesa) on the central east coast of the Sea of Galilee, so these would be the people who lived in that town.
And while there were Jews in the area, back then, this town was certainly not orthodox Jewish, because they are raising and presumably eating pigs (although there is a tradition among some modern Jews (I’ve read) that any pork slow-roasted over a slow-burning wood fire for over 12 hours and anointed with an east Carolina style vinegar based sauce thereby becomes kosher 😉 but even so, these Gerasenes have a tolerance level for demon-possessed folks that no self-respecting Jewish town would have. So, either they were very heretical Jews, or just plain old pagans. The “praise band” was prominent in whatever “worship” they practiced, in other words.
Either way, they don’t exactly roll out the red carpet for Jesus. The welcome wagon is a demon possessed guy (who does have a whole legion of demons living in him, so kind of a one man village?). He is super strong, never wears clothes, and is highly disruptive. He would make an excellent Marvel comics villain, I would say.
When Jesus commands the demons to come out of the dude, the guy shouts “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” In other words, “Go away, Jesus!” or, as it is in the parallel pericope from Matthew 29:53: “if you want a piece of me, c’mon over here and git you some!”
A wild ass of a man, in other words, who (like a good Marvel comics villain!) often broke his chains, and would be driven by the demon into the desert to raise all manner of mayhem. Jesus takes a cool approach. “What is your name?” and he said “Legion” [Christian Bale Batman voice] for many demons had entered him—a whole village, and sometimes it takes a village doesn’t it, I’ve read somewhere?
Now, recognizing the superior force of God’s only Begotten Son they, (The Legion of Demons—a good name for an indie rock band, dontcha think?) recognize what we confessed last week in the Athanasian (my favorite!) Creed that each person of the Holy Trinity is all by himself fully God and Lord. But seeing that Jesus is the True God come in human flesh, note what they don’t do: they don’t ask Jesus to change them, make them good, not evil. Nope. They won’t have it Jesus’ way and bend to his will. Rather, they would bend Jesus to their demonic will, to serve their (evil) desires.
Quickly, The Legion of Demons possessing this Gerasene dude work get through the denial and anger stages, arrive at bargaining. “Please, pretty please, Jesus: don’t make us depart into the abyss. We lived, very sad and lonely, a long time in the abyss. This guy just invited us in and we like human company. But if we can’t live in this guy anymore (he will most certainly miss us!) there’s a herd of pigs right over there. We know how you feel about pigs! Let us go into them, please!”
And Jesus gives them permission. The Legion of Demons (a great name for a rock band 😉 race to stage 5, acceptance, enter the pigs; and the whole herd rushes down the steep bank into the lake and drowns. This is one of the best parts of one of my favorite bible stories. We know so little about demons and have so many questions. This bunch (The Legion of Demons) seem to be parasitic. They need some human or animals host to really be at their best, uh, worst? Peak? But did they kill the pigs on purpose, like intentionally wrecking some stranger’s car after a joy ride? Or did Jesus trick them a little bit? Is it way different driving a pig than a man? Perhaps, it’s not true that: “if you can dodge a wrench you can dodge a ball”? And if their swine host suddenly die, do the demons die too? Did Jesus kill them?
Great questions, right? And yet, we just don’t know. But the swineherds know: this is too much deity for them! Better one demon-possessed dude should be cavorting around the area like a Marvel comics villain than that their whole swineherd should perish! At this rate, all the BBQ restaurants (for which Gerasa is nationally known) will shut down. And what else might this Jesus fellow do? Would he like their praise band? It seems he’s fairly high-church and traditional. One shudders to think at what he might do to the “worship team” (The Legion of Demons is a great name for a “praise band” too, I think 😉
So, the townsfolk huddle up and consult. When they come out and find the man formerly identified as demon-possessed-streaker-crazy-dude, clothed and in his right mind, sitting at the feet of Jesus, they were afraid. Who has power like this? And the worship team leaders (most concerned of all) come up to Jesus and ask very meekly: “Don’t you think you’d be happier back on the other side of the Sea—where the BBQ is not abundant and the worship’s more… traditional? Wouldn’t we all be happier if you’d just… go away, Jesus?”
So, Jesus gets in the boat, goes away to the west coast. But the The Legion of Demons’ former front man begs to go with. And Jesus, taking a page out of the guy’s own playbook, goes: “Wouldn’t you be happier in your own place, with your own kind? Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.” Not very missional of Jesus, but he does see the heart; and what people really want, he will give them (!). And if that is to be with him, they will be—like the thief on the cross, Peter, Mary Magdalene, and all those who love the Lord’s appearing and his Majesty’s secret (rather high-church) yet Divine Service…
And if—on the other hand—what (deep-down) a person most desires is to be hanging with the swine and really whooping it up with The Legion of Demons, thumping away with the self-made worship expressing their own emotions, having it their way, not God’s; then that is where they will end up: away from Jesus’ company that they really (deep down) do not desire…
Hey! I think we’ve answered the second question, too: “Isn’t it great that no one we know behaves like the Gerasenes?” Clearly, we know lots of people who will tolerate Jesus only on their swinish terms—with The Legion of Demons banging away as the soundtrack to their lives. They don’t want to be with Jesus on his terms—especially if those terms involve bearing crosses, confessing confusing old creeds, eating his flesh, drinking his blood by holy liturgies which aren’t totally… safe.
It seems apparent: sometimes, we are just like the Gerasenes(!), swine-herding, flailing away with The Legion of Demons, trying to bend Jesus to our will. How often have we said, maybe without realizing it: “Go way, Jesus!”?
Answering that, though, is not as important as seeing Jesus has come to us today! by his word and sacraments. And sharing his cross, believing his word, feasting on his body and blood, Jesus is with us, always: creating, redeeming, sanctifying. In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.