Thursday Luke 5:19
“Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”
This verse again urges us to ponder the difference between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Rome. The Kingdom of Rome is established first by might, strength, violence, whereas the Kingdom of God is established by the story of a once broken man, simply by words and word of mouth. The Kingdom of Rome is established by overwhelming numbers. Legion numbered 2,000 in the man (Roman Legions were actually comprised of 6,000 soldiers). The Kingdom of God is established by small groups and even solitary individuals. Jesus had only 12 disciples. The possessed and now liberated man alone preached to the city of Decapolis. Power and strength are undermined by the Kingdom of God. Each individual is valued and empowered in this kingdom, each plays an important part, whereas in the Roman system, the vast majority served to create and maintain the privilege of a few elites.
On a more personal level, this story, and today’s verse in particular, reveal transformation and empowerment. The possessed man, who had been the outcast, who had born the pain and fear of his community, becomes, like Jesus, the bearer of the Kingdom of God. This is an amazing occurrence! His suffering is transformed into his greatest strength. Because of his possession, his suffering and his oppression, he is able in a way that others are not, to go to his neighbors and to the wider world, telling a story of liberation. Not only is he healed and liberated from his suffering, but his experience is transformed into his strength. He can travel to the oppressed and the suffering and speak a healing word because he understands, can empathize, knows personally and intimately the pain that people carry. Theologically we remember the cross. It is in and through the cross of Jesus that God enters pain, fear, violence and even death itself, and transforms them all. Jesus is raised from death, and human suffering no longer is that which keeps away from God, but that which bring us closer to God, and through which God can lead us to our fullest and best humanity. Practically we are taught to share, to enter compassionately the suffering experience of others with our own experience of suffering and surviving, of tenaciously holding to God in faith and realizing that we are not destroyed by our pain and fear, but reborn by the liberating love of God.
What experiences of fear or pain may empower you to bring hope and strength to others?
Wednesday Mark 5:14-17
and the people went out to see what had happened. they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.
The story of the Gerasene Demoniac is filled with fear. The community is frightened of the possessed man. The demon that possesses the man is frightened of Jesus. And in today’s verses, the community in turn, is frightened of Jesus. It is interesting to notice that while this is a story of Jesus exorcising the demon from the man, both the demon and the community attempt to exorcise Jesus. The words given to the man to say by the demon when Jesus appears are obviously meant to influence Jesus to leave them alone. ‘Don’t torture me,’ they say. Then, even more obviously, the people plead for Jesus to leave them. They attempt to rid themselves of Jesus. One writer suggests that in this episode of the story, the demons have returned to take a second shot at ridding themselves of Jesus and maintaining control of the community and the man.
When we think about it, this reaction to Jesus is not all that unique. In Luke, after Jesus’ first sermon, some of the gathered crowd wishes to throw him from a cliff. In the story of the rich young man, when Jesus reveals that the young man must sell everything and give it to the poor in order to join him, the young man leaves. He cannot accept Jesus on these terms. Even Peter, when confronted by the fact that Jesus will go to Jerusalem to be crucified, argues, will not accept that this will happen. A strange phenomena reveals itself. That as humans, we are often more ‘comfortable’ in the brokenness that we experience than with the possibility of that brokenness being healed. Feeling powerless to change the experience of being broken (or to continue the metaphor from earlier, being possessed) we adapt to it, make peace with it.
Henri Nouwen writes, '“Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it.”
Jesus many times has to say to his own disciples, ‘do not be afraid, have faith.’ Faith is newly defined for us in this way. It is not simply believing the proper doctrines or being optimistic that everything will turn out ok. It is the willingness to face the demonic, the broken in our lives, and in our communities and societies, to enter into that brokenness with the compassion of Jesus and trust that his presence can bring healing and restoration.
What about following Jesus frightens you the most?
Tuesday Mark 5:9b
“My name is Legion,”
Yesterday we explored the personal connection between ourselves and the story of the Gerasene Demoniac. Today we explore the story from a different perspective. When Jesus asks the unclean spirit it’s name, the reply is, ‘Legion.’ Legion would not signify many in general, but Roman troops specifically. This is a story of Jesus confronting the power of Rome, specifically the primary method by which Rome exercises its power over and control of Palestine, which is its army. This point is solidified when we learn that the Roman Tenth Legion were stationed very close to Gerasa, where Jesus is and the shield symbol of the Tenth Legion was a wild boar.
Mark sees in this story, not only the exorcism of a man, but the confrontation between the Kingdom of God through Jesus and the Kingdom of Rome. But how is this important to us? Psychologist and anthropologists have done studies on how demon possession operates in societies. One very interesting theory is that possession subconsciously acts to free the ‘possessed’ from the pain and torment of violent political occupation and/or the poverty that often accompanies such occupation. In other words, the man’s possession is a result of cruel and unjust political forces and systems. Jesus has not just come to free the man from the symptoms of his possession, but from the cause of the possession, which was the cruelty and abuse of Roman occupation.
This gives us opportunity to pause and consider the difference between the Kingdom of Rome and the Kingdom of God. Rome occupies by force, by violence and its threat. Jesus invades Gerasa with words. Rome rules by a complex system of hierarchy which oppresses the occupied by creating society in which they are treated as less human than Romans. Jesus welcomes the man to his side, allows him to sit at his feet. God’s rule is egalitarian and communal. Rome rules by creating fear. God’s rule frees people from fear. All of this leads to an unmistakable although perhaps unfamiliar conclusion. Jesus is not just present to rescue the man’s soul, but to restore his whole life. By invading and defeating Rome symbolically in the casting out of the demon, Jesus is revealing God concern with human political and economic systems. Do they empower each person to become his/her best, or do they favor a few and harm many? In our own nation this can be applied to concerns of poverty, income inequality, and the number of african-americans in our prison system. These too are issues that God concerns himself with, issues that Jesus came to rescue and heal us from so that all could experience eternal life.
What ‘big picture’ issue do you think most adversely affects people’s ability to grow and thrive?
Monday Mark 5:2-4
a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3 This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. 4 For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet
While the actual existence of demons strains credibility for many, we all can identify with the need to ‘face our demons.’ The telling of this story is rich in metaphors which connect to our lives and experience. He has been chained, but the chains break. In other words, all the resources that he and his community could muster to control his ‘demons’ were ultimately unsuccessful. He does not know how to be free of his ‘demons’ and his community does not know how to help him.
This causes me to think of many of the demons that can torment us in our lives: Addiction, mental illness, past or present abuse, chronic pain, and even, in my opinion, the anxiety of finding work and paying the bills in our day and age, could be thought of as ‘demons’ . Any of these, and many other phenomena that you could add to the list, keep us from being and becoming the people God created us to be. That is how I interpret and apply demonic language in the Bible. The demonic is that which hinders us from becoming our best selves, or, more biblically, from experience eternal life. There is the rejection of the community. The possessed man, who cannot be controlled, is banished to the tombs. His is a living death. His neighbors not knowing how to help, cope or control, simply send him away. The demonic isolates the possessed. But it occurs to me that the community is not really rescued, although the members may feel that way. While they are free of his pain and the pain he causes, they are still made weaker by the fact that he is lost to them. His presence, were it healed and whole, would benefit them. They do not experience this benefit. But perhaps the most painful and harmful of the effects of the demonic on our lives is the loss of a sense of God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s active mercy. Certainly one of the main lessons of this story is that when we have experienced fear and pain and loss and found our own resources, answers and solutions wanting, there is still a source of security, healing and renewal beyond ourselves. ‘God helps those who help themselves’ may be a popular statement but it is not biblical nor theologically accurate. None can help themselves in this story. Neither the man nor his community have the resources to meet this challenge. So Jesus invades their experience to not only bring hope, but healing. This is what the story celebrates. A healing power from beyond that rescues us from the demonic and empowers us to continue the journey toward eternal life.
Are their ‘demons’ that haunt you? name them and lift them up in prayer.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.