'Now from what we know of Jesus, we believe he will instantly grant the man’s request and allow him to come with him. Jesus loves people, and he loved the man so much as to cleanse him from evil spirits. Plus, he wants more disciples. But instead we are told that Jesus ‘sent him away.’ Why would Jesus do this seemingly non-loving, non-welcoming thing?'
Jesus decides to get back in the boat and go back across the sea and leave the
country of the Gerasenes, as they have requested, the man who has had the
demonic infestation begs Jesus to be allowed to go with him. In my naiveté,
I always thought that this was because the man was thankful for what Jesus had
done, that he loved Jesus so much he didn’t want to be parted from him, that he
wanted to become a disciple. But there’s another explanation, one which perhaps
does not exclude the others. The man is terrified. He has good reason to think that if Jesus
goes away the legion of demons he had expelled will be back, or even that he
will be easy prey for a new army of demons. He feels he needs Jesus’
from what we know of Jesus, we believe he will instantly grant the man’s
request and allow him to come with him. Jesus loves people, and he loved the
man so much as to cleanse him from evil spirits. Plus, he wants more disciples.
But instead we are told that Jesus ‘sent him away.’ Why would Jesus do this
seemingly non-loving, non-welcoming thing?
another part of the Gospels, we read that the Pharisees accuse Jesus of
‘casting out demons by the Prince of demons.’ The implication is that malevolent
spiritual power is being overcome by a stronger malevolent spiritual power. The
same thing is going on with the Gerasenes who are so afraid of Jesus. They
figure that Jesus must have some powerful mojo indeed to have pacified this man
who was uncontrollable. And so they politely but clearly ask him, whom they
believe to be a stronger demon, to leave.
we know that Jesus is not a demon. He does not desire power in the same way
that the evil one does. Jesus did not break the chains of the evil spirit in
order to bind with a stronger chain. Instead, we know, the man is free, really
free, from domination: free for relationship with Jesus.
it will do Jesus no good simply to tell all of them this, because they are too used
to the ways of demons. In a way, they are all possessed by evil, or at least in
thrall to it, and this man has simply been the visible manifestation of it.
Something different and more drastic is going to be necessary if Jesus is to
make clear that his Lordship means something else than what they expect and
word ‘Lord’ is translated from the Greek kyrios, but in Latin the word
is dominus, from where we get our English word ‘dominate.’ Jesus may
well dominate the demons, but he does not dominate others in the sense that we
understand the word. He will not remain among the Gerasenes if they do not wish
it. In sending the man away from his side, Jesus shows him and all who see him that
he does not desire to ‘lord it over’ him, to try to possess him whole as the
demons did. He desires the man’s freedom.
in freely obeying Jesus’ command and trusting in Jesus’ promise, the man will
indeed remain in relationship with Jesus and be immune from the evil which had
previously infected him. This will be his discipleship: to live in the same place
that he did before, but now protected from evil, as a witness to the
non-coercive, non-violent power of Jesus. No more will he need chains to hold
him back from self-destructive behaviors, no more will he disrupt the peace of his
fellow citizens; no more will he haunt tombs seeking the company of the dead. The
people who had been so fearful of Jesus’ power may see, over time, that this is
a different kind of Lordship; a power for good, as the man remains in his right
mind, praising God and telling of all the good things that Jesus has done for
of us will not have had such a dramatic experience of liberation. But in Holy
Baptism Jesus Christ has indeed set us free from the power of sin, death, and
evil. Now some of you may be thinking: Am I supposed to believe that some mumbled-over
tap water poured over me by some functionary is really equivalent to Jesus’
casting out legions of demons into pigs? Well, if you really want the
dramatic experience, I suppose God might be willing to take you up on it, but
for myself I’m glad that my deliverance is a little bit more prosaic. And if I
believe the word that the Church proclaims in Jesus’ name, that in my water baptism
in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit I have
been set free from evil, death, and sin, I am indeed free, and nothing, in
the end, can harm me. Even so, I know and you know that we all have encounters
with evil in the world, even after baptism. When we have these encounters, it
is not the experience of a future liberation we crave, but the enduring fact
of baptism we cling to, in order that we may continue to live in God’s
freedom amidst powers that would enslave us until the day when they are no
have to learn how to live in the spiritual freedom won by Christ – to recognize
what would ensnare us into new bondages; and discern how to use rightly the
freedom Jesus has accomplished for us. Theologian Eric Gritsch writes, ‘Baptism
commits to a daily struggle against evil, be it manifested in confusion, a
drive to control others, or escape from daily duties.’
We are called to be non-violent and non-coercive in our words and our actions
towards others. Civil servants may coerce others, but only in the service of
public order and safety. Parents and teachers are given authority for a time
over their children in their immaturity, for the sake of them growing to
responsible adulthood. Apart from limited actions in these roles, there is no
room for Christians to be coercive, and certainly we are never to use other
people for our own ends. We teach our children that we are to use things and
love people and not the other way around.
love people means to love them in their freedom, to respect their boundaries –
precisely what Jesus did, to refuse to overpower them even when we might think
it’s for their own good. In this way and in others we reject the way of evil
that would ensnare us again.
wise minds but more importantly with thankful hearts we are protected from evil
ways of thinking and acting. What keeps the man who had had the legion of
demons safe from evil is his daily remembrance of what God had done for him,
and his daily thankful response to God. When we gather each week, we do so in order to give thanks
for what God has done for us. We give thanks to the Father, for in Christ he
has accomplished our salvation from sin, death, and the evil one. He continues
to keep us safe through the guidance and counsel of the Holy Spirit as we journey
to him. Though sin may hinder us, evil scar our lives, and death finally or
even suddenly arrive for us, we shall not fear, for in our baptism he has promised
to forgive sin, deliver from evil, and raise from death.
One of the names for the meal
we will share together today is Eucharist – or Thanksgiving. For
the Christian, every Sunday is Thanksgiving Day, when we come together to tell
each other of the good things God has done for us. And we are sent with that good
news into the midst of a world that still only thinks in terms of power and
domination. We are sent not to ‘lord it over’ others but to lay before them, in
our free and joyful words and deeds, the possibility and promise of life in
Gritsch, Eric W. A Handbook for Christian Life in the 21st Century.
Delhi, NY: American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, 2005.