I am drawing the same ideas from this passage as I did in an earlier sermon, so I reprint it here. The original sermon can be found here.
In the old Muppet Show, a sketch featured a group of pigs as crew of a space-ship, in a kind of a takeoff of Star Trek.
The announcer would get a real deep voice and the sound man upped the
reverberation so we could hear the extremely dignified name of the
“show:” Pigs in Spaaaaaace.
This has nothing to
do with the meaning of the passage, especially since Luke puts it on a
steep hill instead of a cliff like Mark does. But I always follow this
important rule: When you have the chance to name a sermon after a Muppet Show sketch, do so.
we have Jesus landing on the opposite side of the see of Galilee from
his homeland, in the country of the Gerasenes. As his boat lands, a man
confronts him. The man is possessed by demons, we are told, so he
probably does this to everyone who shows up.
time, he meets someone other than the usual traveler who might run away
in fear. The demon in him instantly recognizes Jesus and cowers in fear,
and Jesus for his part orders the unclean spirit to leave the man.
Luke, ever the doctor, gives us the man’s symptoms so that we can know
he really was demon-possessed. He lived in the tombs, among dead people.
He had frenzied convulsions and in them, he demonstrated super-human
strength. Today, we might hear a doctor diagnose someone with mental
illness in the same way, by listing the harmful things they did to
themselves as symptoms of their disorder.
spirit begs Jesus to leave him alone, Jesus asks it for its name.
“Legion,” it says, meaning that not just one spirit but many have taken
control of this man. With this command, Jesus asserts his power over the
spirit. There will be no hiding behind one’s fellow demons, hoping
Jesus picks one of them to be cast out while the others can stay. The
eviction notice covers everyone. He has absolute authority over them and
he will exert it.
The demons beg not to be sent back
to “the abyss,” or whatever it is that they came from. Instead, they ask
to be sent into a herd of nearby pigs. Jesus agrees, and the spirits
leave the man, enter the herd, and sprint to their deaths in the sea.
And Legion forever loses his ability to really harm people, as they will
never take him seriously again. “Ooh, it’s Legion! Watch out! He’ll
make your Sausage McMuffin jump into your coffee!”
pig handlers are amazed at what they see. They run to town to tell
everyone, and a group marches out to see what’s going on. They see Jesus
having a pleasant conversation with the formerly-possessed man. They
know he’s formerly-possessed because he has clothes on and he speaks
words instead of howls or grunts.
According to Luke,
they respond by getting scared. When some folks who witnessed the whole
scene describe it for them, they get more scared and ask him to leave.
could understand why all this might freak them out a little. It’s a
pretty freaky story. But afraid? And so afraid they ask the man who
worked this miracle to go away? Why? Surely they could see this man was a
powerful prophet and brought a message of similar power. But why fear
him? His power was great, but it was used to heal. And it could
obviously heal anyone, if it healed their friendly neighborhood
demoniac. It could even heal them…
Oh, I think I see
now. If Jesus could heal the possessed man, then he could heal them. Now
they might have to confront their own sin. Now they might need to admit
they too had things that needed to be made right with God. They
couldn’t pretend they were OK anymore, by pointing out that, “Hey, at
least I don’t live in tombs like that guy.” Because Jesus had healed
The Gerasenes had a pretty safe and settled
situation going. As long as their village whacko was around, they could
pretend they were OK. “I’m not as bad as him,” they could say. Or we
might say, when we point to someone as obviously despicable as a man
howling in the tombs would be. “We’re not as bad as they are,” we offer.
Jesus has another point of view. “Maybe not,” he responds. “But to me,
he’s just as good as you. He knew he needed me. Will you admit that
also? Will you admit you need me as much as he needed me?”
left the villagers. But he didn’t leave them alone. He told the
possessed man to go everywhere and tell what God had done for him. As a
reminder of what God could do, when we open ourselves to him.