Sunday, 16 June 2013

If Jesus helps, would you send him away?

Lectionary |Readings for June 23. Isa. 65:1-9, Ps. 22:19-28, Gal. 3: 23-29, Luke 8: 26-39
Donita Wiebe-Neufeld

It's a familiar creepy scenario. A "crazy" person lives nearby. Kids are scared to go past the house, parents won't talk about it, teenagers dare each other to ring the doorbell and run. No one really knows the back history of that person (usually elderly, usually alone) in the run-down house on the corner. Dark, overgrown trees shade the porch in scary shadows even at high noon.We all recognize the stereotypical set-up for what is either a horror story, or a story of discovery and redemption-depending on who is writing it. Luke writes about redemption from horror in a way that leaves us thinking about whether we are able to choose a healing change, or whether we are comfortable with what is.

This is scenario Luke paints, but Luke ups the stakes. His crazy is demon possessed by a legion, too delusional to wear clothes, to strong to be chained, and living in a cemetery. The man is far beyond human help or control and it's easy to imagine how the neighbours would be terrified and disgusted by him. This is the man (naked and scary) who throws himself at Jesus' feet and his demons shout at the top of his voice.

Jesus reacts with mercy. He doesn't flinch from fear, retch from the smell, pull out the chains, or send the man away. Jesus orders the unclean spirit to leave and then he listens for its response. The demons (not the man, he is obviously not in control of his wits) petition Jesus not to send them into the Abyss (we aren't told what that is). The demons ask instead, for permission to enter a herd of pigs and Jesus allows it.

Jesus extends mercy to a man that no one else could help, it is a miracle of healing and new life. But it could also be said that Jesus showed mercy to the demons, after all, he didn't send them to the abyss. There's more going on here than we can know, but Jesus' actions are humbling when I think of how society in general (and sometimes each of us in particular) responds to the "crazies" we encounter. Like the stereotypes I mentioned in the opening, we might choose to avoid or mock the troubled person, or call the authorities with their restraints. We so often don't know how to help, so we don't even try.

Jesus listens and helps. He listens to the undesirable and scary and has mercy. The people watching can't accept that.

In light of this humbling and effective display, the reaction of the regular people is embarrassing. They are afraid and ask Jesus to leave.|Apparently, it felt safer to keep things as they were, as imperfect as they might be, than to entertain the idea of change.This week I heard a true story of a person who, after being alcoholic for years, was able to stay sober for a significant time. His family then gave him a gift of booze, and now he is back to destroying his body with it. It seems that the change, even though it was needed, was a hard adjustment for everyone involved. The old alcoholic rut was the well-worn and well-known path. It is the worse path, but it is the one everybody knew how to navigate. The devil we know...we keep it around because it is scary and hard to change. Jesus offers to help, do we keep him around or ask him to leave?

One final note on the story of the healing of the demoniac. In verse 39 Jesus asks the man to go to his home and declare how much God had done for him. The man, instead, tells everyone how much Jesus had done for him. (I checked the NIV and the NRSV, and both have this wording.)  There is an important difference here between what Jesus asked and what the man did. Jesus always pointed worship and devotion toward God, not toward himself. He didn't want worship for Jesus the man. There's something important here for ongoing thought!

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