I am wondering if we prefer our demons?
In the Gospel lesson, the disciples and Jesus step out onto the Gentile country of the Gerasenes. They are not on “home soil,” they are visitors, and the very first thing they encounter there is not some friendly townsfolk, or the welcome wagon, or the tourism council.
No, what welcomes to meet them is a demon infested man. He is naked, wild, could not be bound even by strong chains, and who lived among the tombs. He is unclean. He is uncouth. He is uncontrollable, and unwelcoming. He greets Jesus with a not-so-subtle question.
“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me!”
Now, we’ve seen Jesus do a number of things in the Gospel.
We’ve seen Jesus cast out demons, and heal the sick, and even raise the dead. But at no point have we seen Jesus “tormenting” anyone or anything? That’s just not in Jesus’ usual list of things to do.
Clearly however, the demon possessed man has the impression that it would be in Jesus’ purview so to do. Could we imagine Jesus “tormenting” anyone? Even demons?
And at the end of the story, when the demons are cast out and the man is sitting there in his right mind, it is the townsfolk who come to Jesus and ask him to leave. He’s put quite a dent in pork production and profitability by causing the herd of swine to be sent into the sea. “Seized with great fear” they ask Jesus to leave.
Could it possibly be that we prefer our demons? Both those gripped by them and those who live with their consequence?
“Legion” we are told is the name; when Jesus asks for it from the man.
He has demons by the thousands. Where does one begin?
The man is such a problem that the people who live here don’t know what to do with him anymore, and so they leave him to his demons. They let him roam the countryside. They try to restrain him to keep him away from them. They consign him to the unclean places, the place of the dead.
Clearly, the people of the area cannot live with him, so they leave him to live with himself, by himself. But at least even in the grips of this demons the man has his place in that world.
When the man is restored to his right mind and cleaned up, the people don’t know exactly what to do with him. It scares them that he has changed so much!
Which is what prompts me to ask the central question here, “Do we prefer living with our own demons to having Jesus address them?”
Perhaps this is where the idea of torment comes in. Perhaps the torment the man/demons speaks of is that of having to do something besides live with things the way they are.
We come, we worship, we drink our coffee, we sing our songs, and go home again, often shaking our heads at all the troubles that are “out there” in the world and how good it is to get away from them all “in here” for a little time in here.
We like having this respite from the world.
But we are not always so enthusiastic about addressing our demons. That ends up being torment for us!
“Do we have to talk about this?”
“Can’t we just leave well enough alone?”
So we do what in some communities and circles is called “Minnesota Nice.” We keep our conversations on safe, shallow, and not too revealing terms.
Better to have my demons in check, than let them run rampant.
We do our best to just contain them, or to tolerate them.
They are often too big, too numerous, and too powerful to take on, but they are also not usually all that well hidden. They poke their fierce heads with the right comment made, the wrong action taken.
They get out every once in a while.
So like the man in the Gospel, we do our best to restrain our demons.
We shackle our demons of poverty, injustice, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia with polite chains that we know will never hold them, but that give us enough time to simply keep out of their way.
Address something like gun violence? That would mean taking on the NRA, or examining our gun culture, our entertainment industry, and our constitution! Those are things that you just don’t want to mess with! Surely it is better to just keep things at bay and in the fringes that to confront them. So we shake our heads and find various excuses to leave things as they are, not take them on, examine them, or —gasp—ask their name and get to know them!
When it comes to the balance of guns and freedom, we prefer the demons we have. It appears we prefer to live with them.
Address poverty? That would take examining all forms of economies, and what they can and cannot do. You can’t question capitalism! You can’t advocate for democratic socialism! To do so unleashes the well-rehearsed attacks and jabs and catch phrases we have cherished since the turn of the century. No, capitalism certainly has its drawbacks but it is still the only way to go. We prefer the demons we know, the ones that may grip to us tightly, rewarding some and punishing and tormenting others to considering alternatives.
Talk about the LGBTQ community and our response to Orlando? That opens up just way too many questions. We have most of those demons of divisiveness and advocacy under restraint right now, the keel is even, why rock the boat?
The church it seems always tries to walk a fine line between social issues and individual rights. We try to keep a large enough tent to allow all a place under the roof, and in doing so we necessarily let a few demons persist that we are simply not willing to name.
Could it be that we prefer our demons to having to address them?
Could it be that the torment we envision is having to deal with what grips us, examine it, let go of it, or deal with the changes the departure of demons will make. It will cost us dearly.
We envision tortured conversations ahead as we engage in debate.
We considered tortured conversations ahead as we do what is all too human, fail one another, surprise one another with the bigotry, racism, and privilege that we did not even realize was in our midst until Jesus began to name things for us.
The prospect scares us, of having to address these big, Legion complex things, and so we sip our coffee and sing our hymns and hope to simply keep things at a status quo.
And Jesus will have none of that! The demons sense it, and angrily shout at him even as he approaches.
This is not where we are meant to stay, you see, cloistered behind these brick walls and stained glass, in safe but polite places.
The man is not meant to stay gripped by Legion.
The community of the Gerasenes is not meant to stay as they are, putting up with things as they are for the sake of their economics, convenience or fears.
If you think church is just about is coming here, and singing, and praying, and drinking a cup of coffee with your friends, then you are sadly mistaken.
There is no place in the Gospels where Jesus gathers people just for the sake of gathering them.
No, Jesus gathers people to be taught and empowered and equipped for service.
Jesus gathers people to be healed of their infirmities so that they can proclaim the good news of a God who heals!
Jesus gathers people to put them into boats and to take them to distant shores where they will have to engage the demons that dwell there!
And while it is Jesus who acts primarily in this story, he does so knowing that the disciples are watching him intently.
He does what he does this day, knowing that a day is coming soon when he will commission his disciples, sending them out like sheep among the wolves, where they will have to confront the demons themselves!
Look and remember what Jesus shows us in this story.
Legion recognizes Jesus, and puts up quite a fuss when Jesus arrives. Legion recognizes that Jesus will be the end of Legion’s power over this man.
“Don’t send us back to the Abyss!” “Send us into the swine!” Legion begs.
And Jesus does, but Legion ends up rushing headlong into the abyss of the sea anyway.
Destruction is what the demons of this world are bound for, no matter what! Which means of course, the more we harbor those demons, whatever they are, and tolerate them, the more tormented we will be when Jesus comes near. The demons know, we know – that the demons cannot exist where Jesus comes near.
The truth is that the problems of this world are indeed “Legion”. There are so very many of them. They are often left to run wild because we are afraid to approach them, or ask their name, or label them for what they are.
Followers of Jesus know that the demons, the legion of problems out there have to be confronted.
As bearers of the name of Jesus, we are the ones who are called, empowered and commissioned to go forth and confront the “Legions” of this world.
This is the scary side of the power of God, this is the “torment” that we can find ourselves in because of Jesus.
God has a mission in this world, and God is going to be about doing it.
The Kingdom will come, that is a promise.
The question always before us is “Will we be a part of that work of God in confronting the demons of this world that we come across, or, will we remain quiet, and let the demons have their way with us?
More importantly, where do you find yourself in this story?
This is the scary side of the power of God. There is no standing in the wings, no just letting things go on the way they always have.
In the end for the man restored, but no easy life of leaving behind his old community to retreat with Jesus is given to him.
No, you have to stay and help your neighbors now, confront what they have lost, how things are different for you both, how the world is changed because of what God has done for you and in your midst.
When Jesus comes near, demons are named, and dealt with.
So, I wonder again, “Do we simply prefer our demons, Legion though they may be, to a world turned upside down by Jesus’ presence?
It’s worth considering. Are you ready to face your demons today?