It is the season of graduation parties and sending our high school seniors off to college. I couldn’t help but reminisce about what I was like at that age. There was the excitement about going to college and being “on your own,” but also the angst of trying to figure out who you are. You’re still trying to figure yourself out at 18-years old. When I was at that age, and for most of my childhood, I struggled with whether I was more of a tomboy or a girly girl? Do I wear more makeup? Do I own that I prefer sweat pants to dresses? (By the way athleisure is the best thing to ever happen to the fashion industry and for women). I felt the pressure from my peers and the culture at the time to be one or the other and that I couldn’t be both. I allowed outside influences input into my identity.
The true identity of the man in our passage from Luke is not even mentioned. Perhaps it is because he was possessed by demons for years and eventually the rest of the city forgot his real name, who his family was or what he did for a living before he became possessed. This man was now known as an outcast. He’d been on the outskirts of the city, living among tombs, naked, and who knows how he managed not to starve to death. While others had shunned this man, Jesus did not.
Whereas most people failed to accept Jesus as the son of God, that he was God as a human, the demons who had taken hold of this man recognized Jesus instantly. They knew the power Jesus had over them and that they didn’t stand a chance against Jesus. They didn’t even try to run away and hide as they probably knew Jesus would find them. They actually went to meet Jesus, and when they did they were frightened. Frightened of what Jesus would do to them. They knew at that moment that Jesus would no longer allow them to remain in the man, so they didn’t even try to persuade Jesus to leave them alone. Instead they begged Jesus not to send them back to the abyss, but to instead send them into a herd of pigs. So Jesus did just that and the pigs ran down a steep bank and into the sea of Galilee.
The swine herders who witnessed this were amazed and went back into the city to tell others what had happened. While you’d think they’d be rejoicing with and for the man that was just healed, they were instead fixated on who in the world had the power to heal someone like this man. We’re told they had tried to contain this man with chains, but even chains could not contain the power of the demons who possessed him. This kind of healing and transformative power was unsettling and downright frightening. The people of this community were so “seized with fear” that they asked Jesus to leave.
I love the quote that is on our bulletin from Pastor and author, David J Lose: “We often prefer the devil we know to the freedom we do not.” We prefer what we know because what we know is comfortable and predictable. When things are predictable it gives us a sense of control because we know what to expect. There’s nothing wrong with wanting order and predictability, but it becomes a problem when we are holding on so tightly to what we know that we fail to see what could be better.
While the demon-possessed man was in a terrible situation, everyone got used to it. He simply became known as the demoniac who lived among the tombs. We even refer to this passage as the “demoniac from Gerasene.” The possessed man knew his place as an outcast and the rest of the residents knew their place.
The other residents knew to avoid him and to keep him in his place, which was away from their homes in the city. They became comfortable with this system. While terrible, this setup became part of the everyday landscape and normalcy of Gerasene. It was normal, comfortable, and predictable until Jesus arrived. In healing the man Jesus disrupted what they’ve always known.
When Jesus takes something broken, whether it’s a situation or a person, and makes it right, it is disrupting. We’re so used to brokenness that healing and wholeness scares us. In healing this man Jesus makes him unrecognizable to others. He is now sound of mind and can now live in the city. He no longer has to be seen as a danger or an outcast. While it is a wonderful thing, it disrupts what the citizens of Gerasene have always known. Jesus has disrupted their social system. When the demons drove the herd of pigs into the sea this meant a financial loss for those who planned on selling them for meat. While the loss of a herd of pigs is a small price to pay for the healing of a man that had suffered for so many years, Jesus brought disruption to their financial system.
More often than not systems need to be disrupted in order for people to experience God’s healing and live in to the people God meant for us to be. When we live into our identity as people loved and valued by Jesus Christ not everyone will be happy about it. Becoming people who find their identity in Jesus Christ requires change, and change is disruptive. It’s why we don’t like change. Change jolts us into remembering that we are not in control. We can no longer depend on what we’ve always known because what we’ve always known no longer exists. The citizens don’t know what to do with the healed man. I bet that’s part of the reason why the healed man asked Jesus to take him with him instead of remaining in Gerasene.
I also have to wonder if the citizens of Gersene would’ve reacted differently to Jesus had Jesus first healed someone else. Someone more acceptable. Perhaps a child like Jairus’s daughter who was not only an innocent young girl, but the daughter of one of the leaders of the synagogue. Perhaps because she was a child and belonged to a respectable family, those who witnessed Jesus heal her had a different reaction toward Jesus than the crowd at Gerasene.
This passage reminds us that Jesus attends to those we have cast out. Jesus is more likely to walk among those we would rather avoid. Those we see as the bottom of the social ladder are the very people Jesus walks alongside. Jesus befriended lepers, possessed people like the man in our passage, prostitutes, and tax collectors who were seen as traitors as they perpetuated a system that cheated their own people out of their livlihood.
It’s a humbling reminder that Jesus does not see others the way we do. Jesus sees all people as children of God who were made in the image of God. And he never loses sight of our true identity even when others have. Jesus sees and knows our true selves even when we’ve allowed others or broken systems to define us. As the passage from Galatians 3 states: “There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Here Paul names how the systems of his day separated people.
We may have lost sight of who we are, but Jesus never will. When we come to see ourselves the way Jesus does and when we are closer to becoming the people God has called us to be, it will be disruptive. Knowing Jesus Christ is to experience transformation – and that means a drastic change. Change for the better, but we need to be prepared that others may not see it that way. If we’re so used to operating out of our brokenness, then that’s how others are used to experiencing us as well. When we start living as people whose brokenness has been healed by Jesus, then we begin to live differently. But not everyone will welcome our new way of living.
And there are times when we are the ones who don’t welcome the healing Jesus wants to bring into our lives. We have grown so accustomed to living out of our brokeness that it’s become comfortable and we fear the change that results from Jesus’ healing. But when we, with the help of the Holy Spirit, dare to accept Christ’s healing in our lives, we will be changed for the better.
I started by reminiscing about my high school years. For the majority of us high school graduation was a long time ago. We know ourselves better now than when we were 18. The older I get, however, the more I realize I still have a lot to learn about who Jesus is and who Jesus made me to be. My guess is it’s the same for you. We’re all still trying to find out who we are in Jesus Christ. We are all a work in progress.
There will be times when we will be like the people who were so frightened by the healing power of Jesus and the disruption that it brings that we will ask him to leave. There will be other times when we identify with the demon-possessed man who is so thankful to Jesus for saving us that we will beg to follow him wherever he goes. Who do you identify with most today?
My hope and prayer for all of us is that we would not obey our fear of change and disruption, but that we would accept Christ’s constant invitation to find our true identity and our true selves in him.