Jesus must have had rocks in his head. I can just imagine that his disciples thinking that when they set out from Galilea by boat to the Gerasene countryside. What was he doing over there? From all accounts, he ended up in a scary place. Tombstones, graveyards, and a person who sounded like he was right off his rocker. And Jesus was caught between a rock and a hard place. Should he help the man and risk being shunned by his good, faithful Jewish followers, or should he ignore the man in all his suffering, but let the legion have its way with the man?
Legion is an interesting name, by the way. It’s a military word, a word with Latin origins, not Greek. It is a unit of the Roman army, and refers to between three and six thousand soldiers. That is a lot of tormenting voices to have in one’s head. It must have been terrifying to witness the man’s ravings and violence.
It’s a fascinating thing that there is a variation on this scripture in all three gospels. It came right after the story of Jesus sleeping in a storm while the disciples are trying to sail across the sea of Galilea, which, by the way, is only 8 miles wide by 13 miles long. They may not have wanted to rock the boat, but the storm certainly was. And Jesus quieted the storm, allowing them to get to the other side of the sea. The Gentile side. The non-Jewish side. Perhaps even the side where Romans were completely in charge, unlike the Jewish side where an uneasy truce of sorts was trying to keep the tensions at bay. But it was not a place where a nice Jewish rabbi and his followers should spend time, especially when it was a stone’s throw from where a herd of pigs were. Pigs, as you may know were unclean animals according to the law of Moses, and if gentiles who wanted to make friends with Jews happened to accidently serve pork chops, well let’s just say that relationship would be off to a rocky start, and probably the Jews would greet that dish with a stony silence.
So you don’t have to be stone cold sober to guess that the poor fellow with all the demons was quite likely not Jewish. Jesus as a good rabbi, would probably never have left the Galilea neighborhood. Jesus as an excellent rabbi would remember the stories of Elijah and the teachings of prophets like Isaiah that would extol the virtues of taking care of foreigners, and even living with them day by day. But Jesus, if we can trust our gospels, and I find more and more that they are something I do trust to grow my faith, did more than an excellent rabbi. He reached out and did the unthinkable. He healed the man!
We all know how easy it is to feel intimidated by people who today have hit rock bottom. Whether it is from addictions, mental illness, abuse and scam artists, or betrayal by family members, we would rather stay on our side of the lake and not have to deal with such situations. We don’t want to go near the folks who seem out of control, who are violent, and who are desperately looking for ways to ease their pain. Yet on this 1st anniversary of the shootings in a Methodist church in Charleston South Carolina, or 5 days after our own beloved church was broken into, we know that there are times when we don’t have to cross the sea to meet people that scare us. Sometimes they come to us. Sometimes they live only a stone’s throw from our homes. Sometimes their rocky roads through life intersect ours in devastating ways.
Jesus was not afraid to meet them where they were. Jesus reached out in love and understanding. He asked the man what his name was. He listened to the man’s voices, not trying to deny or ignore or pretend they weren’t there. He acted decisively and compassionately.
On this Father’s day, I would invite us all to wonder what it would be like to have the demonic voices that encourage us to see violence as an option to be silenced. To have those addictive and seductive negative thoughts be brought out of our secret places and plunged into a public place like the demons ending up in a raging stampede of sows and piglets. To chose to practise radical hospitality to everyone we meet, for we just don’t know when Jesus might show up on their doorstep and heal their minds.
Paul’s reminder that we are all one in Christ, is hard to swallow. Some might say it is crazy. But it was that commitment to seeing everyone as a child of God that was at the heart of Jesus’ healing ministry. We don’t know what Jesus did to cause such a dramatic healing, but it left a deep impression on his disciples. Jesus didn’t divide people into those worthy of socializing with and those who should be shunned. He didn’t judge that some were to be worthy of his time and others not. He went where he was needed, and responded to their hurts with compassion.
We need more men like Jesus, men who chose not to shoot up men in a club in Orlando just because they are attracted to other men. We need men like the young fellow who wandered into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest black church in the South, a few weeks after the shooting, to sit and listen about why people kept coming back for bible study on Wednesday nights despite the deaths that occurred. He keeps coming back. That bible study has more than doubled its attendance and now attracts both black and white folks to learn about the bible. And this last Wednesday, there were 150 people in attendance. I pray that they continue to testify to their faith with such brave boldness, and that we too may follow in their footsteps, with Jesus the rock beneath our feet.