Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. (Luke 8:35-37))
At a time when we need so much healing in our nation and in our world, this week’s Gospel text (Luke 8:26-39), the story of Jesus’s stop in the country of the Gerasenes, speaks volumes about our failure to do the things we need to do and ought to do.
The horrible shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando was the big news topic this week. Along with the shock at the sheer number of people killed and the way in which their lives ended, it brought new perspective for some to the struggles of the GLBTQ community and to the issue of gun control. It brought out the best in some people, but the worst in some others for whom the shooter’s ancestry shored up their prejudices against Muslims.
Meanwhile, the daily news from the campaign trail and the publication of climate data for May provided a too-familiar backdrop of news that might lead us to despair were these things not so much of the familiar background of our daily lives in 2016. It’s only when we stop to really think about what is happening that we really hear it.
The climate news for this week included the prediction that those of us alive now will never again see carbon dioxide concentrations as measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory fall below 400 ppm, as well as the news that carbon dioxide concentrations in Antarctica had passed the 400 ppm mark for the first time in four million years. May 2016 was globally the warmest May on record, making it the thirteenth consecutive month to break monthly records, and continuing the string of 370 consecutive months of above average global temperatures. (Anyone born in July 1985 or after has always lived in a warmer-than-average world.)
The Gospel story of Jesus’s brief visit to the country of the Gerasenes describes Jesus healing a man possessed of a “legion” of demons. The demons beg to be sent into a herd of pigs, who then rush down a steep bank into the lake and drown. When people come to see what is happening, they find the man they had known as a madman who lived naked among the tombs now in his right mind, and clothed and seated at Jesus’s feet. Their reaction? “Great fear,” says Luke. They ask Jesus to go away. Yes, the madman was healed, which is a good thing, but look what happened to the pigs, and the change in the man who was healed is pretty scary, too — just too different.
We, too, are so scared of changes for the better that we ask Jesus to leave us alone. Don’t ask us to love our neighbor. We’ve allowed the oppression of GLBTQ people because instead of loving our neighbor, we have made excuses for prejudice: “We just aren’t ready for a gay (or female or black or…) rector (or neighbor or…)” or “I don’t have anything against gay people, but if I don’t laugh at what my friends say about them, my friends might think I’m gay”. We have seen gun control work in other countries, but our lawmakers are afraid of the NRA. And our scientists and engineers know how we can significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate global warming, but we have fears of changing from a fossil fuel based economy to a clean energy economy, and many of our politicians are as afraid of the fossil fuel industry as they are of the NRA. It seems that many people like the idea of Jesus healing people, especially those heart-warming stories of miraculous recoveries of individuals, but we don’t really like it when Jesus invites us to allow healing on a big scale.
And so bigotry and violence and ignorance have gained a firm foothold in our time. We allow it every time we choose the familiar, comfortable, socially acceptable way over the wonderful new thing that God constantly offers us.
The man who used to roam among the tombs was healed and able to return to his home, but his life doesn’t seem to have been worth much to his fellow countrymen. They were more concerned with the pigs they lost. They weren’t ready for such a big change.