I usually preach on confusing things. I’m not trying to confuse people—just the opposite. But all week, while I’m reading and rereading the lessons, I am drawn to the things that baffle me. Part of me suspects that’s actually a good homiletical method. There’s likely an intentional reason something sticks out as not making sense. Perhaps it didn’t make sense to the original hearers or readers. Perhaps that’s the point. Then again, there’s a good chance I just don’t know what I’m talking about.
This week, in the gospel lesson (Luke 8:26-39), there are three things that confuse me. Maybe I’ll blog about them throughout the week. Maybe I’ll get some clarity on them. There’s a good chance I’ll preach about at least one of these things. We’ll see where the Spirit leads.
First Confusing Point: After healing the demoniac who had caused his community a good deal of annoyance, the crowd responds with fear. Luke writes, “Then 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.” I know that fear is a tricky thing in the biblical sense. It doesn’t always mean “scared” the way we typically use it, but, in this case, I think “scared” gets pretty close. Clearly, there was something about Jesus’ power and the power he represented that frightened (and awestruck) these townsfold.
Second Confusing Point: After hearing from the eyewitnesses of the demoniac’s healing, “all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.” Again, more fear—and this even after thoughtful reflection. Usually, in my life, fear evaporates pretty quickly: roller coaster, person jumping out from behind a corner, a loud bang. Almost always, my fear disappears before I have time to think about it. Rarely do I sit and listen and think about a situation and still end up afraid. But these Gerasenes, still overwhelmed by what Jesus had done, ask the healer to leave. It’s as if this life-giving, life-saving, life-altering power is too much for them to keep in their midst.
Third Confusing Point: Rejected by the townsfolk, Jesus climbs back into his boat. The now right-minded fellow walks up to his healer and asks—begs—if he can follow him. Jesus’ answer: nope. Here was a man so powerfully touched by the presence of Jesus that he was willing to give up the prospect of returning to his old life in order to follow Jesus. But Jesus wouldn’t let him, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” Some scholars think that Jesus wanted this man to go and evangelize his hometown. Others say that, as a Gentile, he was not allowed to be a part of Jesus’ primarily Jewish movement. Me? I’m still confused. This seems like the kind of detail not worth including in the story unless it were important. But why?
That’s what I’m wrestling with this week. Maybe we’ll see some direction by Sunday.