Monday, June 13, 2016
Jesus has really been on a roll of late. Three weeks ago, as we began our journey through the Season after Pentecost in Year C of the lectionary, he healed the slave of a centurion, showing not only that he could cure at a distance but also that his saving power was to be shared with those who are not Jewish by birth. Then, he went to a town called Nain, where he gave a childless widow back her dead son, raising the corpse on its way to the grave. Yesterday, Jesus used a parable to show that a Pharisee's understanding of sin and hospitality were lacking, teaching us the power of forgiveness. Although the lectionary skips over the first half of it, Luke 8 contains powerful parables about the countercultural nature of God's kingdom, and the build up culminates with the miraculous stilling of the storm--a moment when all that Jesus has claimed is confirmed in this supernatural expression of divine power.
And then, this Sunday (Luke 8:26-39), he hits a bit of a roadblock. After the storm is made quiet, the disciples and Jesus land across the sea in the "country of the Gerasenes," which is to say in Gentile territory. We don't really know why Jesus came to this unfamiliar place. Perhaps it was an accident of the storm. Regardless, he doesn't have much time to set things in order. Luke tells us, "As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him." A quick survey of the passage lets us know that this demon-possessed man was infamous in that area. He didn't wear clothes. He didn't live in a house. Instead, he slept in the graveyard, which is to say that by Jewish standards he lived a notoriously unclean, ungodly life. He could not be contained by chains and shackles, but howled his way around the community, causing havoc.
Upon seeing Jesus, the man flings himself down on the ground at his feet and cries out as loudly as he can, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?" Throughout scripture (see Genesis, Daniel, etc.) that is a particularly Gentile way of referring to the God of Israel. There is recognition, then, in this demon-possessed man of who Jesus is and what he represents. After the exchange that follows, Jesus cast the "Legion" out into a herd of pigs that rush down the bank and drown themselves in the sea (the sea being the chaotic place where demons are expected to go). And the man, free of the demon, is found to be in his right mind, wearing clothes, sitting with Jesus and his disciples. And when the townspeople see it, they are afraid. They assemble together, and "all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear." And Jesus got back into the boat and left as quickly as he had arrived. I wonder what happened to the people whom he left.
Jesus takes a community from chaos to peace, and they reject him. Could it be that rational people when presented with the kingdom of God choose chaos over peace because they are afraid of what that peace represents?
Spouses of alcoholics often suffer breakdowns when their partners become sober. Perhaps without realizing it, they work to undermine their spouse's sobriety because the familiar chaos is less scary than the unknown peace that sobriety has brought. That makes absolutely no sense...unless you're the spouse of an alcoholic who for thirty years has defined herself as the one whose life revolves around a drunk husband. Friends, family, children, career, social life, church--it all fits into the chaotic world of a husband who drinks way too much. Even though no one will talk about it, everyone works around it. We all know that she suffers in that way, and our relationships with her (and him) reflect that truth. If he isn't drunk any more, who will talk with her late into the night--her husband? They haven't really spoken with each other in decades. But, now, he's got his life together. People are noticing. And, all of the sudden, the bags under her eyes aren't assumed to be the result of sleepless nights but of her age. Her own struggles are unspokenly assigned to her. And so she gives him a bottle of Jack Daniels to celebrate his one year of sobriety, only half-conscious of what the gift represents.
It happens. It really happens. It happened in Luke 8. And it happens in our own lives over and over.
Yesterday morning, we learned that a terrorist had entered a nightclub in Orlando and had shot many people. Yesterday afternoon, we learned that as many as 50 had died and that the perpetrator claimed an allegiance with the Islamic State. By last night, expression of sadness, sympathy, and outrage had flooded social media. And now all of us are quick to declare who, other than the terrorist, is to blame. Is it the gun lobby? Is it a president who is weak on terror? Is it a homophobic imam or an inherently violent religion? Is it those of us who decry gun violence, offering little more than our prayers for the victims and our disdain for the stalled political process? Is it you? Is it me?
I don't know who is to blame except people. We are to blame. There is a kingdom that God is bringing into this world in which there is no violence or hatred or blame. And, when presented with that kingdom, we reject it. Over and over again, we reject it because we are afraid of it. To any rational person, that doesn't make sense. Why would we turn our backs on peace? But to us, who are stuck in our irrationality, it makes perfect sense because peace and the change that it brings to our lives is threatening. It really is, and we cannot afford to ignore that fact. But, like a spouse in Al-Anon, we must be reminded daily that the threats of persistent chaos and hatred and violence are even more threatening than the change that peace represents. As a preacher of the gospel, I must do more to hold up the urgency of that kingdom. As people of God, we must invite the world to acknowledge the real cost of peace and encourage people to embrace it anyway.