They came to the other side of the lake, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when he [Jesus] had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.’ For he had said to him, ‘Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He replied, ‘My name is Legion; for we are many.’ He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged him, ‘Send us into the swine; let us enter them.’ So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the lake, and were drowned in the lake.
The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. But Jesus refused, and said to him, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.’ And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.
Our wonderful reading about the Gerasene demoniac reminds me of the one about a man who was at the gates to hell. In front of him were two gigantic doors. One was made of twisted red oak and the other of smooth polished iron. Sitting between the doors were two huge red, identical-looking demons. One was seated on an enormous ornately carved ivory chair. The other on an identically carved but shiny black ebony chair. Suddenly, a booming voice from above announced, “Mortal! Listen well, for your salvation depends on it. One of these doors leads to a life of eternal pain and suffering in the realm of hell. The other will gain you your freedom. These demons will guide you, but beware, while one will always answer with the truth, the other speaks only falsehoods. You may ask but one question.” The demon in the black chair immediately boomed, “I am the one who tells the truth.” The other demon said to the man in a similarly booming voice, “Do not listen to my brother Gias, HE is the liar.” The first demon turned and yelled, “Me the liar?! No! YOU are the liar. You are Gias, I am Goil, and we are NOT brothers.” They bickered at each other for a long while. The man listened closely and could hear no inconsistency in either demon’s statements. He pondered for a long time, sweating nervously. Minutes turn to hours as he tried to think of a way out. Suddenly, he stepped forward, smiling. Turning to the demon on the left, he said, “I am ready to ask my question.” Then he asked in a confident voice, “What would he say,” pointing to the other demon, “if I asked him if the red door leads to hell?” The demon slowly stood to his full height of 20 feet. He turned his head to ponder the man’s question. After a long pause, he sheepishly responded, “Cheeseburger.”
I like that one for a couple of reasons. Contrary to popular belief, demons aren’t undefeatable. They can be clever. They can be cruel. They can be persistent. They can be scary. They can be ruthless. But when it’s all said and done, their work is ultimately defeatable. Their work is inherently flawed. That’s because they serve a weak master. They serve a master who relies entirely on fear and intimidation to ensure misery and suffering. The pain and anguish that the devil imposes on poor, wayward souls is reinforced and fed by nothing more than fear and doubt. The devil relies on our fears of what awaits us in the next world to help build his creation. And fear can be so easily overcome through faith. Faith in our Lord and Savior and what he did for us on the cross. Faith in the love and mercy and grace of our God. Fear has no place in a believing heart. Fear is powerless to faith and a believing heart. God’s love is so much stronger than fear and doubt. God’s love is everlasting. God’s love is full of hope and promise. God’s love is gracious and merciful. God’s love empowers us to boldly defy the demons around us as the man did in that opening joke. We can stand up and outsmart the demons around us. We can expose them for who they really are: small, insignificant, weak slaves of a small, insignificant, weak master. Our God is so much more powerful, so much more benevolent, so much more wise…so much MORE!
That joke reveals not only the weakness of the demons around us but also the power within us to overcome them. Believe it or not, each of us has this great power within us to defeat any demon we may encounter in our walk through life. We each have a unique power, a superpower if you were. Through the waters of baptism, we were clothed with Christ and named beloved children of God. The spark of Christ went in us as represented by the candles we give to the newly baptized. Christ within us is no small power. Indeed, it is the mightiest of powers. It is the superpower of superpowers! Christ stands up to all the superheroes our culture loves to create and idolize. Christ has the greatest power of them all: the power of love. Love conquers all. There is no power greater than love and Christ has it in spades!
Just look at how powerful Christ’s love is as we heard in our reading for today. Jesus and his disciples decided to go to a land filled with people who did not know our God. After traveling by sea, they set foot in the foreign land only to be greeted by a raving maniac possessed by a demon…well, many demons as his name suggests. The townspeople were afraid of the man and had cast him out to live naked and alone among the dead. He spent his days howling and bruising himself with stones. And Jesus wasn’t afraid of him. No, Jesus saw not a demon but a man possessed by demons. Jesus saw a beloved child of God suffering at the hands of a cruel and angry demon. Jesus showed great compassion on the man and exorcised the demons from him. Why Jesus chose to transfer the demons to nearby pigs who hurled themselves off a cliff is a mystery. Perhaps it was a statement that reinforced Jewish intolerance of swine in their diet. Nevertheless, it was a powerful miracle that effectively revealed God’s love and mercy. All of Jesus’ healings and miracles and teachings served to reveal God’s great love and mercy.
Underneath all of Jesus’ healings also laid an important truth about what Jesus strongly values: freedom. In exorcising the demons from the man, Jesus set him free from their pain and agony. Just as his teachings sought to set us free, so too were his healings. Jesus wants us to be free: free from sickness, free from pain, free from sorrow, free from fear, free from doubt, free from selfishness, free from pride…free from whatever it is that enslaves us. That is not how God wants us to live, as slaves. God wants us to live with hope, love, compassion, kindness. God wants us free to serve him and our neighbor…not as slaves but as servants. There is a fine distinction between those two titles. A slave lives without hope. A servant is full of hope and love. Jesus wants us to live free and will do whatever it takes to free us.
Scripture only reinforces this emphasis Jesus places on freedom. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul advises, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (5:1) Jesus wants us to stand up to the demons that threaten to enslave us. Jesus wants us to value freedom just as much as he does! A little later in his letter, Paul reinforces the idea that we are set free to serve our neighbor. “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.” (5:13) After he had exorcised the demons, Jesus told the man that he was to stay and tell all those in his community how blessed he felt to be freed. In so doing, he was serving them by helping them to come to believe in Christ as well. He was freeing them in his witness.
As we continue our walk with Christ, let us give thanks for the freedom that comes with both his teachings and his healings. In him, we are freed to defy all the demons we may encounter in this world. What a great gift! John writes, “so if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (8:36) Jesus freed the Gerasene demoniac and wants to free you and me, of this we can be certain. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.