Proper 25B/Ordinary 30B/Pentecost 23
October 28, 2018
5 1-5 They arrived on the other side of the sea in the country of the Gerasenes. As Jesus got out of the boat, a madman from the cemetery came up to him. He lived there among the tombs and graves. No one could restrain him—he couldn’t be chained, couldn’t be tied down. He had been tied up many times with chains and ropes, but he broke the chains, snapped the ropes. No one was strong enough to tame him. Night and day he roamed through the graves and the hills, screaming out and slashing himself with sharp stones.
6-8 When he saw Jesus a long way off, he ran and bowed in worship before him—then bellowed in protest, “What business do you have, Jesus, Son of the High God, messing with me? I swear to God, don’t give me a hard time!” (Jesus had just commanded the tormenting evil spirit, “Out! Get out of the man!”)
9-10 Jesus asked him, “Tell me your name.”
He replied, “My name is Mob. I’m a rioting mob.” Then he desperately begged Jesus not to banish them from the country.
11-13 A large herd of pigs was browsing and rooting on a nearby hill. The demons begged him, “Send us to the pigs so we can live in them.” Jesus gave the order. But it was even worse for the pigs than for the man. Crazed, they stampeded over a cliff into the sea and drowned.
14-15 Those tending the pigs, scared to death, bolted and told their story in town and country. Everyone wanted to see what had happened. They came up to Jesus and saw the madman sitting there wearing decent clothes and making sense, no longer a walking madhouse of a man.
16-17 Those who had seen it told the others what had happened to the demon-possessed man and the pigs. At first they were in awe—and then they were upset, upset over the drowned pigs. They demanded that Jesus leave and not come back.
18-20 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the demon-delivered man begged to go along, but he wouldn’t let him. Jesus said, “Go home to your own people. Tell them your story—what the Master did, how he had mercy on you.” The man went back and began to preach in the Ten Towns area about what Jesus had done for him. He was the talk of the town.
I’ve always felt a bit sorry for the pigs in this Gospel story – there they were, minding their own business, and suddenly they’ve got the urge to jump over the cliffs like lemmings (incidentally lemmings apparently don’t jump over cliffs – it’s just a thing created by cartoon animators!), but it is an amazing story isn’t it?
This Gospel story is an actual event of Jesus setting free a man in the grip of real evil and we see the power of God through Jesus to defeat evil. We also see the love of Jesus bringing about healing, cleansing, peace and sanity (this description at the end is wonderful – the man sat at Jesus feet, clothed and in his right mind. It’s a truly exciting story and everyone is amazed at the power of God and grateful (except the pigs and the pig breeders), because there’s probably some embarrassment around the town at having this strange man in the locality. Presumably he was once living in the town and was driven out by the “normal” people and he lived this strange, harrowing life among the tombs, which made him ritually unclean as well. He would have been in people’s minds, no doubt, whenever they looked towards the tombs.
But, there is something deeper going on here that we can learn from – not many of us are in need of exorcism but maybe we do feel estrangement from others at times and we are all in need of cleansing and healing. We are all in need of peace and sanity – the peace and sanity that Jesus brings each one of us through the Holy Spirit. And, maybe we have to think of a sort of before and after picture – we may not be as extreme as the demoniac who hurt himself and was a danger to himself and others and had to live among the tombs – but this is an image of life without Jesus – in some ways it is like living among the dead and not being in our right mind is something we may know and understand for ourselves. We all have times of isolation – of feeling abandoned and cast out by other people and we need to start by being honest about where we are.
Of course, most of the time it is not like this at all. We may be nice people and even do the right things morally and ethically – we may be respectable members of the church and community – but, without the healing and the peace and the love that the Spirit brings into our lives, these acts are worthless and all that we do, as good as it is, is of little real value so that we may as well be living among the tombs.
The story is great isn’t it – there is something deep within this man who’d been held captive by the demons within him for many years – there is something in him that knows Jesus holds the key – and of course the demons of the story also know this and try their best to stop the encounter. Have you ever read The Screwtape Letters? If you haven’t it’s a brilliant book by CS Lewis claiming to be the letters of an old devil writing to his nephew with advice on how to tempt his human. It’s an amusing and very dated book – written during WW2 but also has some wonderful insights
“One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate. When he goes inside, he sees the local grocer with rather an oily expression on his face bustling up to offer him one shiny little book containing a liturgy which neither of them understands, and one shabby little book containing corrupt texts of a number of religious lyrics, mostly bad, and in very small print. When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbours whom he has hitherto avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbours. Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like “the body of Christ” and the actual faces in the next pew. It matters very little, of course, what kind of people that next pew really contains. You may know one of them to be a great warrior on the Enemy’s side. No matter. Your patient, thanks to Our Father below, is a fool. Provided that any of those neighbours sing out of tune, or have boots that squeak, or double chins, or odd clothes, the patient will quite easily believe that their religion must therefore be somehow ridiculous. At his present stage, you see, he has an idea of “Christians” in his mind which he supposes to be spiritual but which, in fact, is largely pictorial. His mind is full of togas and sandals and armour and bare legs and the mere fact that the other people in church wear modern clothes is a real—though of course an unconscious—difficulty to him. Never let it come to the surface; never let him ask what he expected them to look like. Keep everything hazy in his mind now, and you will have all eternity wherein to amuse yourself by producing in him the peculiar kind of clarity which Hell affords.”
The key for Screwtape here was that the human should never know the reality of God’s love and forgiveness because that’s where the trouble starts! And, this is the key for us too isn’t it – what Jesus has to offer is love – unconditional love. A love that cleanses, heals, bring peace and sanity.
- Cleanses: a love that cleans out all the rubbish in our lives, the sin and failure that we know we have
- Heals: a love that having got rid of the rubbish begins the process of making us new – making us the person God wants us to be
- Peace: a love that gives us that deep sense of peace in ourselves and peace where there is conflict with others
- Sanity: a love that gives us a “right mind” –a right perspective on ourselves, our situation and other people.
This beautiful picture – if we forget about the pigs for a minute – of someone at peace. Sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. Such a sense of tranquility and peace after the chaos of his former life.
So how do we respond to the love that Jesus has to offer? Knowing that we have been healed, have the Peace of Christ, and a Godly mind, how do we live our lives? Are we willing to return a tithe to the church, so that other’s might know of God’s love? Do we accept Christ’s unconditional love and respond with financial support of God’s ministries?
A man came to Peter Marshall, former chaplain of the Unites States Senate, with a concern about tithing. He said: “I have a problem. I have been tithing for some time. It wasn’t too bad when I was making $20,000 a year. I could afford to give the $2,000. But you see, now I am making $500,000, and there is just no way I can afford to give away $50,000 a year.”
Dr. Marshall reflected on this wealthy man’s dilemma but gave no advice. He simply said: “Yes, sir. I see that you do have a problem. I think we ought to pray about it. Is that alright?”
The man agreed, so Dr. Marshall bowed his head and prayed with boldness and authority. “Dear Lord, this man has a problem, and I pray that you will help him. Lord, reduce his salary back to the place where he can afford to tithe.”
We all can afford to tithe if we really want to! Really, we can’t afford not to tithe
Commentary provided by Tim Ditchfield, Jill Duffield, and John McConnell