Jesus and the Legion

Preached on Sunday, 23 June 2019 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
The second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7 Year C  (thematic track)

There’s a lot of detail in this morning’s gospel.  It might be interesting to dive in and explore all the intricacies.  But it’s so easy to get lost in the details that we can miss the big picture.  So, I’m going to start by zooming out to see how this morning’s story fits in.

Luke tells four stories in quick succession, each demonstrating the power of God in Jesus.  The first comes immediately before the one we hear today; in fact, it could even be considered part of this story.

Jesus is in Galilee, it’s near the beginning of his ministry.  Late in the day, he says, “let’s get in the boat and go to the other side.”  So, they set out and there’s this terrible storm; they think they’re going to die.  Jesus rebukes the wind and the waves and storm is calmed; they’re saved.  The disciples are astonished and wonder who this could be whom even the forces of nature obey.

The second is today’s story.  I’ll come back to it in a bit.

The third is when they get back to Galilee and a woman who has suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years is healed by touching Jesus’ robe.

And finally, the president of the synagogue comes to Jesus for help because his daughter is at the point of death.  While still on the way, they learn she is, indeed, dead.  Jesus goes to her anyway, and raises her back to life.

So, we see this arc of demonstrations of God’s power through Jesus.  Power over the forces of nature.  Power over physical illness.  Power even over death itself.  And in today’s story, power over demons, the spiritual forces of evil.

Now, let’s go a little deeper into this story.

They cross the Sea to go to the land of the Gerasene’s; this is Gentile country.  And if you didn’t catch that earlier, the swine make it clear.  As soon as he steps out of the boat he is confronted by the demoniac.

Luke uses the language of military occupation to recount the story.  This man has lost everything, though he is “a man of the city.”  Now he has lost almost all sense of humanity.  He has no home and lives in the graveyard; no clothes; no dignity.

When speaking with Jesus, it seems that he can’t even use his own voice; it’s as if the occupying demons are speaking.  Even his name is lost.

He is chained, shackled, under guard.  The demons seize him, like a prisoner under arrest.  All of these words are usually used in relation to prisoners; those who have gone against the authority of Rome.

When Jesus asks his name, he says, “Legion.”  Now, to Luke’s audience, Legion has only one, very literal and fearful meaning.  A Legion is a unit of about 6,000 Roman soldiers – the occupying army.

The location, the land of the Gerasenes is the site where the Romans committed an atrocity during the Jewish revolt of just a short time before – families were slaughtered, towns destroyed.  The graveyard where the man lives contains the tombs of the slaughtered.

The language of this story accentuates the immense power that Jesus is facing.  Just as we see in the other stories, God has power over the spiritual powers of evil.  Jesus drives out the demons.

In this story, Jesus goes out of his way and at significant risk (remember the storm?) into Gentile country, apparently for one purpose: to seek out this man who has lost his identity, his humanity and to save him and restore him to himself and to his community.

Here we see a dramatic instance of what Paul is preaching in his letter to the Galatians.

Don’t get mired in the details.

All of you are beloved children of God.  All those details that you may use to describe yourselves and others, to distinguish one from another – they all fade in importance before the grace and love of God.

For the church in Galatia, those details are male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free.  The details in today’s world may be different, but what Paul is teaching is still relevant.  All are beloved children of God…

Even those on the other side politically, the pundits on the other cable news channel.  People who labor physically for a living and those have lives of leisure.  Children, millennials, and retired folks – and folks who will never be able to retire.  PhDs and high school dropouts.  Those whose ancestors arrived on the Mayflower and those whose ancestors arrived on slave ships. Those who arrived as immigrants and those who were here before the first boats ever arrived – and everyone in between.

Those whom you think should not even call themselves Christian – and those who never would; and those who don’t believe in any god at all.

Even they, all of the “theys,” are beloved of God.
And Jesus would go out of his way and risk everything to save even one of them.

Just as he would for you.

Thanks be to God.