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Visions from The Catacombs, Week Before June 19 2016

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:

Once again Jesus is going to places and engaging people that many in his society would not.

He crossed the Sea of Galilee and slept while the storm raged. He calmed the waters and then when they arrived in a Gentile country, he was greeted by a man who was possessed by many demons.

We are not talking about the Amityville horror here. Biblical scholars say that the Greek words used to describe demonic possession are words that speak to the effects of oppression on people. Imagine a group of people in an authoritarian county, where they are constantly harassed and exploited. Now imagine the same people in a land of equity and mutual protection and respect. How different would they feel about themselves, their futures and how different would they behave?

Some might be able to be pretty well adjusted in both situations, more or less. But others might be more sensitive and be impacted more than others.

This man was one of those most impacted by the oppression of Roman Occupation. Notice what the demons were named:  legion. Legion is the name of a Roman army unit, between 1,500 and 5,000 soldiers.

The Roman soldiers not only occupied the country, but they occupied his heart, mind and soul.

But he knew that Jesus was related to something more powerful. Called him the Son of the Most High God, higher than Caesar.

Jesus is kind even to these possessing thoughts and feelings and bids them to enter the herd of pigs nearby. Pigs were ritually unclean for Jewish people.  This act of casting the demons into the pigs seems to be a way of saying that the oppression by the Romans that this man experienced internally was not fit for a child of the Most High God any more than pigs were to eat.

When the people in that region saw the man sitting, listening and in his right mind they were afraid. Fear and powerlessness is what occupation is all about. Keep people afraid and powerless and you have them under control. While people might dream of casting off their fear and finding their power they know all too well what happens when you raise your head such a context.

I vividly remember watching Roots for the first time when I was 12. I remember weeping when Kunta Kinte was beaten until he said his name was "Toby." I so much wanted him to not relent, but didn't know how he could stand even one lash.

But then I watched later in the story as he lifted up his daughter to the heavens, a sign of that his enslavement was only temporary, an act of evil that transgressed the inherent dignity and worth of a child of the God of the wild and bright night sky.

In such a context of oppression and exploitation,the man was not the only one with a legion of fear in his heart and mind. The villagers too, it seems were also possessed by legion. Luke tells us that when asked to leave, Jesus left. Jesus did not heal a wound without their permission! His respect for them is too deep for that.

But he did not leave them hopeless. He told the man to stay and tell them that Caesar and his legions were not the ultimate power in the universe. Fear and powerlessness did not have win the day. Even if the legions were in their town, they did not have to allow them to take up residence in their souls.

I remember taking my daughters out to the back yard of our house in Mountain Home, Idaho and held them up to the sky soon after we got them home from the NICU. I did this to honor of that story the the struggle of so many human beings enslaved in this world. After a few months our daughters were baptized at Grace Lutheran Church by Bishop Robert Keller. We promised to remind them who they were no matter what fear or powerlessness might take hold of them. They are God's beloved children.

May God cast our legions out and remind us who we are.