June 23, 2019, Evil Is for the Pigs, Luke 8:26-39 – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
To listen to this sermon, click here: Z0000141
There is a common expression in Greek: “Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί?” It’s what the demon-possessed Gerasene man, said to Jesus in the story. Literally, it means, “What to me and to you?” To a Greek-speaking person, the sense might be something like, “What do I have to do with you?” In the context of this story, a good translation of what the man says to Jesus might be, “What do you want with me?” For us, as we read this strange, unpleasant story about a naked, demon-possessed man, and the mass slaughter of pigs, we might be tempted to ask something very similar. “What does this story have to do with me?”
We should always expect the Bible to speak to us where we live and when we live. We should always read, expecting the words of Scripture to be relevant to us. But some passages are easier than others to relate to. I’m pretty sure the story of the Gerasene demoniac is not one of the most relatable stories in the gospels. And yet, Holy Spirit inspired Luke to write it down for us, and we can be sure there is a reason it is there. More than that, we can be sure there is a reason that we need to read it.
We don’t deal with a lot of demon-possession or swine here in Norwood. But if we look a little deeper than the surface, this story is about something more than pigs and exorcism. If you boil it right down to its essence, this is essentially a story about how we deal with evil, which, it turns out, is not such an unfamiliar subject. Luke is telling the story of how evil entered this community, Gerasa, and how it manifested itself in one poor man. So many demons entered into him, in fact, that when Jesus asked who they were they just called themselves “Legion”.
When Jesus arrives, the demons have nearly stripped this man of his humanity. He goes around naked, like Bigfoot. He lives alone in the graveyard, among the tombs. Luke doesn’t tell us that he’s ever done any harm to anyone else; he just tells us that the people were so terrified of him that they tried to keep him chained up at all times. But the demons were so strong within him that time and time again he broke the chains. And every time he broke the chains, the demons – and it might have been the people as well – would drive him out into the wilderness where he endured his suffering in miserable solitude.
So, there we have a very relatable example of a typically human response to evil. The first human reaction to anything we perceive as evil – or even different – is fear. The people were terrified of this man, they were terrified of demons, and therefore, their response to the threat of evil was to chain him up. Because the natural inclination of human beings, when we are afraid of something, is to try to control it.
When Jesus comes on the scene, though, we see a reaction of a very different kind. When Jesus stepped out of the boat, and this naked, wild, demon-possessed man came out to meet him, Jesus approached him without any fear at all. Can you imagine how crazy the people must have thought Jesus was, when instead of getting right back in the boat, or grabbing an oar or something to defend himself, he just struck up a conversation with the man?
For his part, when he came face-to-face with evil, Jesus never reacted with fear. When Jesus looked at any person, he didn’t see evil, he saw a human being. His response was always to do what he could to help. When Jesus commanded the demons to leave the man, it was the demons who were afraid, and maybe the man, too – this man who had only received hatred and cruelty at the hands of every other human being he met. “Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί?” he cried out, “What do you want with me? I beg you, please, don’t torment me.”
In the end it was the demons, not Jesus, who reacted in fear, begging to be allowed to enter the herd of pigs.
I think most of us feel a certain degree of discomfort with Jesus allowing the demons to enter the pigs, so that the whole herd of pigs, who were perfectly innocent bystanders in the whole matter, were drowned in the lake. My personal belief is that the man who had suffered so terribly and so long might have needed the visual sign of those pigs rushing down the hill and perishing in the deep water as an assurance that the evil was gone from him forever. But neither Jesus nor Luke gives us any very clear explanation.
But all too often when we read this story we get so hung up on pigs and demons that we miss what is really important in the story, which is this whole problem of responding to evil. And that’s unfortunate, because we come face to face with evil every day of our lives. We certainly face evil in the small kingdoms of our personal lives as we deal with sin and forgiveness. But we also face evil –on a much bigger scale – in the greater kingdom of this world. And it seems to me that it’s a matter of life and death that we learn to react and respond in the way that Jesus teaches us, and not according to our natural human impulses.
Specifically, and at the risk of being political, I want to consider this story in the light of something that is very much in the forefront of the news these days, and that is the issue of the refugees coming across our southern border. As is the natural way of human beings, those who are in seats of authority in our country have chosen to look at the problem and see the evil. They see vast numbers of people who are poor and desperate – and brown – entering our country, often illegally. They see that there seems to be no end in sight, because the very real evils that are driving people out of countries in Central and South America – violence and crushing poverty and climate change and political unrest – those things aren’t getting better anytime soon.
And so they have resorted to the default human reaction, which is fear. Fear drives all the rhetoric. What are “they” going to do to us? Who are “they” really? And from fear there follows naturally that human response, which is “how are we going to control them?”. In the gospel story, we see the townspeople of Gerasa in Luke’s gospel, binding a fellow human being with chains. I’m sure the people of that town were perfectly nice, respectable human beings, people who raised their children to be kind and honest, people who went to synagogue faithfully and observed the laws of Moses. And yet, they focused on the evil instead of the person. They were driven by fear instead of loving their neighbor as their own self. And so they treated a man, a man who had literally been their neighbor once upon a time, with cruelty, and with violence, no better than a wild animal. In our concern for the pigs, I think most people read right over that without noticing how wrong it is.
In our own situation of the problem of people seeking asylum at our nation’s border, the natural human response, driven by fear, is to try to get in control of the situation. And that response is leading us into more and more cruel and inhumane behavior. I want to read a short description of a detention center in Clint, Texas. This is the first-hand witness of a group of lawyers who visited the facility. This one that is being described is only one of many such facilities.
“Hundreds of young people who have recently crossed the border are being held [in this facility]. Some have been there for nearly a month. Children as young as 7 and 8, many of them wearing clothes caked with snot and tears, are caring for infants they’ve just met, the lawyers said. Toddlers without diapers are relieving themselves in their pants. Teenage mothers are wearing clothes stained with breast milk. Most of the young detainees have not been able to shower or wash their clothes since they arrived. They have no access to toothbrushes, toothpaste or soap. So many children are sick, they have the flu, and they’re not being properly treated. The group of six lawyers met with 60 children who ranged from 5 months to 17 years old. The children are locked in their cells and cages nearly all day long. [The lawyers] observed the guards wearing full uniforms – including weapons – as well as face masks to protect themselves from the unsanitary conditions. The Justice Department’s lawyer argued that the settlement agreement for these facilities did not specify the need to supply hygienic items such as soap and toothbrushes and that therefore the government did not need to do so.”
Just like the citizens of Gerasa, I feel sure that those guards are not particularly wicked and heartless people. They’re just obeying the law. But those laws are a response to an evil – a legion of evils – that we haven’t even begun to address. They are certainly not a response to these real human beings, so many of them little children, who have come to us in need. These laws, and the decisions that are being made right now by those in power, are driven by fear. They are failing to recognize – or refusing to recognize – the humanity of the people they are trying desperately and vainly to control. As a nation, in our futile efforts to respond to evil, we are doing much greater evil ourselves.
The response that Jesus asks of us is to see the person rather than the evil, and to respond not with fear, but to respond the way that he responded to the demon-possessed man, with love, doing everything in our power to relieve suffering instead of being a source of additional suffering. Jesus did just exactly what he taught in the story of the good Samaritan, where a man was robbed and beaten and left for dead on the roadside. The priest and the Levite passed cautiously by on the other side of the road. They looked at a human being and saw the crime, shaking their heads about the problem of violence on our roadways, worried about the effect on business and tourism, wishing the Romans would man up and really get tough on crime. But Jesus chose the part of the Samaritan, who looked at the crime and saw a human being.
If we read the news accounts about these detention centers, we might feel afraid, or we might feel sad. We might feel angry, or we might feel discouraged. But if we look at those children as real human beings, who are no different from our own grandchildren; if you really imagine your own child or grandchild locked in a filthy cage, afraid, hungry, sick, cold. Then you begin to understand how Jesus felt about the Gerasene demoniac. Then, and only then, you have begun to understand what Jesus means when he tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” We have a motto in Daughters of the King that says, “I am but one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. What I can do, I ought to do. What I ought to do, by the grace of God, I will do. Lord, what will you have me do?” I ask that we all pray that prayer this week, as each of us seeks what God would have us do for his children.
I heard an interview this week with Mark Morgan, who is acting head of ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He said that he is sometimes uncomfortable with what he has to do in his job, but “It’s the law,” he says, “I have no choice.” But that isn’t true. We always have a choice. Let’s choose to see people, not problems. Let’s choose to do good, not evil.