(sermon note: 01-28 sermon note)
They came to the other side of the lake, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when he 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 anymore, 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.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a little old lady who was sitting on a park bench one day in a Florida assisted community named The Villages. All of a sudden, a man whom she had never seen before walked over and sat down on the other end of the bench. After a few moments, the woman asked, “Are you a stranger here?” He replied, “Oh no, I lived here years ago.” “So, where were you all these years?” inquired the lady. “In prison,” he said. “Huh. Why’d they put you in prison?” He looked at her and very quietly said, “I killed my wife.” “Oh!” exclaimed the woman. “So you’re single?!”
Certainly not the typical response when someone tells you they killed their spouse! Atypical yet somehow…reasonable. I imagine it’s difficult living in assisted communities as a single person. Even with group meals and activities, it’s gotta be difficult meeting new people and making new friends. Everyone has long life histories and can become pretty settled in their ways, not to mention the spouses sticking to themselves or other couples. It doesn’t get easier meeting new people and making new friends as we get older. It’s no wonder that old lady couldn’t care less that that man killed his wife. He had talked to her, and she was probably in great need of companionship. She wanted to be a part of community again so much so that she was willing to overlook shady pasts.
We human beings are for the most part pretty social creatures. We like being around other people. We define ourselves in relation to others. We like looking out for other people and for other people to be looking out for us. Even those who don’t particularly enjoy others are defining themselves by the opinions and judgments of others. They’re afraid of what others might say about them. Take away the opinions and judgments and most people enjoy being with others. God made us to be social creatures. Just look at the Holy Trinity. God exists in social relationship between three entities: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Because we are created in his image, we, too, are created to be in relationship with ourselves, with each other, and with God. We might run away from people and live isolated lives but we’re still in relationship with ourselves and with God. We can’t ever get away from ourselves or from God. We’re always in relationship with ourselves and with God. Let’s face it, we were created to be social creatures.
Now then, what does this all have to do with our reading for today? Well, the demon-possessed man was unlike the demon-possessed man from earlier in Mark’s gospel. Recall how Jesus came to the earlier demon-possessed man in the synagogue. He was sitting among the parishioners, minding his own business, until Jesus called him out and cast the demon from him. The man in today’s lesson was isolated from the larger community. We don’t know if he self-isolated or the community as a whole isolated him but we know he wasn’t living with others. In fact, he was living among the dead in the tombs. And he was howling all day and all night and breaking apart chains and shackles that attempted to restrain him. Jesus went to the man in his isolation and confronted the legion of demons living within him. With his authority, he sent the demons into the nearby pigs who eventually threw themselves over the cliffs. You’ll notice a different response from both the man and Jesus then from Jesus and the man in the synagogue. The man begged to stay with Jesus and follow him wherever he may lead. Jesus didn’t allow the man to join him but instead told him to tell his community of his miraculous healing. What a change in response from the exorcised man in the synagogue! Jesus told him NOT to tell anyone about his miraculous healing! Remember, the Messianic secret. So why the change in response to the man in today’s reading?
I’ve reflected on this all week long and I’ve come to realize the answer to that question lies in not only the change of situation but also the change in priorities. Jesus had 2 priorities to his healing in today’s reading. First and foremost, he needed to rid the man of his demons. No man should live tormented by demons. But having rid him of his demons, Jesus also needed to restore the man’s relationships with his community. He had been an outcast long enough and Jesus needed to heal the man’s broken relationships. He was not above being a social creature like the rest of us and what better way is there to build relationships than by sharing about God’s love and healing? For this one instance, Jesus broke from his secrecy and encouraged the man to share about what Jesus had done for him so that he might begin to feel a part of the community again.
And we begin to realize that our God is not only a God of healing but also a God of restoration. When Jesus heals our bodies and minds and spirits, he’s doing so to restore wholeness within us. He’s restoring healthy relationships between our bodies, minds, and spirits. The relationships we have with ourselves are pretty important relationships…almost as important as our relationships with God. If we don’t have healthy relationships with ourselves, how can we ever have healthy relationships with God or others? We can’t! For Jesus, healing is about restoration. It isn’t about seeking fame or displaying glory. It’s about restoring healthy relationships. God wants to restore us and our relationships. Recall when God spoke to the tormented prophet, Jeremiah, such words of hope: “for I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, says the Lord, because they called you an outcast.” (30:17) And the words of Peter in his first letter: “and after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.” (5:10) God knows our suffering and our sickness. God knows how we struggle in this world to maintain healthy relationships. And God comes to us in our suffering and sorrow, eager to heal and restore us.
The healing in today’s reading is about restoration above all else. Our God is a God of healing and restoration for healthy relationships. We can cry out to God and ask for his restoration just as David famously did in his 51st psalm: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.” (vs. 12) Let us gladly give thanks for his gracious restoration. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.