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Reflections on the Gospel, Week before June 23

Luke 8:26-39

26Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27As he 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. 28When 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”— 29for 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.) 30Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. 32Now 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. 33Then 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. 34When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35Then 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. And they were afraid. 36Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39“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.

What I am Learning:

Jesus goes into a region in which Gentiles were the majority on the east side of the lake the Romans called the Sea of Tiberias - what Jews referred to as the Sea of Galilee.

When he gets there he engages a very unclean situation: a demon possessed man living in the tombs. Jewish people whitewashed their tombs so as to avoid becoming unclean by accidentally walking on them. Furthermore, there are pigs nearby, an unclean animal unfit for consumption by Jews.

Once again, Jesus cares little for the rules of respectability, and cares much for the pain of human beings. The demon possessed man was cut off from his family and even human community. He wore no clothes - this caused shame not only on himself but on others who saw him. In first century Mediterranean culture seeing someone naked made the viewer feel publicly ashamed. This is why Romans would often crucify people naked.

First century people understood that there is a hierarchy of beings: demons were pretty high up in this hierarchy and only someone with more authority could cast them out. When they call Jesus "Son of the Most High God" they are acknowledging Jesus as being higher on this scale than himself.

It is interesting to note that Jesus is even gracious to the demons. He puts them into a herd of pigs who then drown themselves in the Sea of Galilee.

The demon's name is "legion." This is not a name, of course, but a number - a Roman legion is about 6,000 men.

According to Malina and Rohrbaugh, many Jews in the first century felt that the Roman empire was a form of demonic possession: that the influence of the Roman culture of domination, the dog-eat-dog culture of the Romans, was a kind of infection, separating people from each other and people from themselves.

In this story, then, Jesus shows he has the power to cast out the power of the Roman culture of domination and to restore this man to himself, and this man to his family.

When he allows Legion to go into the pigs, I suspect the Gospel writers are saying: domination culture is so destructive it's only proper place is a herd of swine.

This is not just a story about Jesus' bag of tricks - it is a commentary on the effects of domination culture and the power of God to heal it.

An official of the St. Louis Federal Reserve noted that we now have three Americas:  The top 1%, those who make over $50,000 and the majority of Americans who make less than $50,000. The study goes on to say that economic mobility is on the decrease and has been for the last 35 years. And that the vast majority of Americans have not recovered economically from the Great  Recession. While the economy is recovering, those without great skills are not recovering with it.

Many are just opting out of the job market. Others are living out of fear grabbing all the money they can while yet others are numbing themselves with alcohol or drugs.

We too, are living in a winner-take-all culture that separates us from one another and from a meaningful life. It encourages us to act out of fear and to abandon what we hold together, to abandon the commons and our common humanity.

This story tells us that in Jesus God moves to heal us from the power of domination culture. This healing can restore us to our right mind, bring us out of the tombs of despair and reunite us to our families and to one another; and to work for a world in which Legion is cast out and God's Reign comes near.

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