St. Augustine of Hippo


Episcopal Church

 


From Possessed to Proclaimer of the Good News

by

The Rev. Dr. Nathanael Saint-Pierre


(Luke 8:26-39)


June 19, 2022


I have studied, but I need your strength I have prepared, but I need your power,

I’m willing and I want to, but only you can make me able

Silently now I wait for thee, ready my God thy will to see 

Open mine eyes and illumine me. Spirit divine



Have you ever questioned your actions? Have you felt some forces are in you that you don’t control? Have you ever concluded that you may be inhabited by demons? What have you done about it?


The Gospel of Luke that we read today finds Jesus leaving his comfort zone to enter the region of Gerasa (a Gentile territory). There he meets a Gerasene demoniac possessed not by one but a legion of evil spirits. What is clear, however, is that Jesus will not allow the unclean spirits to keep on tormenting the man. Already, even before the man addresses him, he has commanded them to leave. Now Jesus asks the man’s name, but it is the demons who reply: “Legion,” they say, “for we are many.” From the moment that the demoniac first confronts Jesus, the whole episode invites us to consider what Jesus has to do with the forces that occupy and control humans/us. 


What were considered demons in Jesus’ era? What are the demons of our modern era? What did Jesus do to restore the humanity of the Gerasene demoniac? What can Jesus do to free us from our demons?


When we hear the word demon, we quickly think of a repugnant-looking being or supernatural entity, typically associated with evil. We are afraid of demons because there are many stories about their abilities to harm humans. In the time of Jesus, we can affirm that the belief in demons was very present. Altogether, the four Gospels refer to demons about seventy times, one way or another. Demons in the gospels are referred to as devil or Satan, unclean spirits, or evil spirits.


There are, thus, more than a hundred references to these infernal creatures, surely enough to indicate that in the thoughts of the Gospel writers, demonology was an important subject. There are sixteen chapters in Mark, twenty-eight in Matthew, twenty-four in Luke, and twenty-one in John, a total of eighty-nine. Averaging, then, there would be a reference to demons in every chapter, and more.


Luke’s community, in trying to go announce the Good News to communities outside of itself, seems to have faced strong and violent repression. The name Legion (Luke 8:30) connotes great numbers as well as military force, both reminding Luke’s reader of Roman power and indicating that Jesus is engaged in a formidable spiritual battle. The Jesus Luke presents to us is the post-resurrection community responding to its mission to let nothing silence it. The vocabulary Luke uses in the Gospel connect us with the brutality they faced then from political figures ready to throw them in jail and force them to live marginalized. We have no evidence that the possessed Gerasene was a person in reality or if it was a way for Luke to describe the forces of evil that were opposing the Jesus’ Movement. That interpretation is not impossible.


Although, when the church speaks about demons, people have the tendency to think about voodoo or foreign gods in foreign cultures, there are three things demons have in common:

1.They cause self-destructive behavior in the victim (the person they control),

2.The victim feels trapped in that condition (a trap he cannot escape on his own),

3.and they separate the victim from normal living in the social/family circle.

We can easily call evil or demons, all spiritual forces that resist good/God and remove human dignity. Enslavement, racism, addiction, substance abuse, homelessness, drugs (soft or hard), and the list goes on, can be considered demons; we can also add anger, jealousy, envy, desire to dominate over others, to destroy life, the sentiment of superiority that we still face and must overcome.


But Jesus met this man at his greatest need, his need to be human, and to live a normal life among his peers. Jesus not only heals this individual, but he also leaves a witness behind for everyone who had initially rejected him. It is a person transformed that now can sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to what Jesus has to say. From opposing Jesus, the attention the man received from Jesus made a witness of him. Someone who now has something to tell about his life and experience, the outcome of his encounter with the “Son of the Most High” transformed him from possessed to witness.


The man himself may not have known where his identity ended, and the possession began. Realistically, when we are controlled by a supernatural force, what people see is not what we think they see. I can recall a time I was deeply upset because someone did something to me and I felt disrespected, humiliated in the presence of my peers. I never realized I had my camera in hand and, by the way I was carrying it, someone could have believed I was ready to use it as a weapon. There I was, trying to communicate my frustration but making a monkey of myself. Evil has a way to blur the image so that we don’t see the reality.


How many people in our world are haunted by a traumatic past and tortured by memories? How many live unsheltered and inadequately clothed because of social and economic forces that they cannot overcome, no matter how hard they struggle? How many are imprisoned, regarded as barely human, excluded, cast out? How many are enslaved by addictions, no longer knowing where the addiction ends, and their own selves begin? Where do the governing authorities separate people from their families, denying them the opportunity to seek better lives? Where do occupying armies still brutalize entire communities and hold them captive to fear? Don’t tell me you are Black and you’ve never met those demons.


As we celebrate Juneteenth and become more socially responsible, we must remember that Freedom is too dangerous, too costly. Though Legion has been expelled from the demoniac, the memory of Legion still controls his community. We might have been freed from enslavement, but our minds are still colonized. The ways we were programmed to be and act must change. As we celebrate Father’s Day, our community is still afflicted by the legion of demons that inhabit our men. We are still inhabited by the demons of violence, the violence that was done to our fathers and that we duplicate with our children. We still behave as stallions spreading our seed everywhere but taking no responsibility for our offspring. Our past of enslaved must not define our present and future.


Jesus comes to challenge and cast out every power that prevents us from living fully and freely as human beings created in God’s image. Jesus claims sovereignty not just over our souls, but over our lives here on earth. Many among us resist that news, finding deliverance from Legion too frightening, too demanding, too costly. But those whom Jesus has healed and freed know that his liberating love is indeed good news, the gospel that he commands us to proclaim throughout our cities and towns. Still today, God is at work in Jesus, bringing God’s kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven.


Jesus showed the Gerasene possessed man how liberating it is to be a vessel of the Holy Spirit instead of being possessed by evil. Our demons will never have our well-being at heart. But Jesus does. He gave his life so that we could be free. Only by proclaiming his name like the possessed, do we go from possessed to proclaimers of the good news. Jesus is good news for the world. Jesus is love divine made flesh so that our demons can leave us, and we can be free to embrace the way of love God intended.


Now go! Be free to be the loving fathers God created us to be. Be the transformative leaders in a society controlled by hatred and materialism. Empty our hearts to let Jesus fill them. Go from possessed to witness and tell the world that Jesus Christ is king! Amen.