Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
It is, in the Northern Hemisphere, the season of summer – of fun on the water in many forms. We, ourselves, live by three lakes and spend much time in them, on them and by them at this time of year. Our impending visit to my sister’s on the Saskatchewan prairies holds the promise of a visit to their cabin with boating, tubing, skiing and skipping stones on the to do list – unlike our last visit when our son learned to sandbag for the first time as his uncle and cousins sought to keep the lake water from drowning the cabin.
This last image of flooding and water out of control, unfortunately a prominent one on the weather news of late from so many different places, is, as N.T. Wright points out in the first chapter of his Evil and the Justice of God, a biblical symbol of the chaos evil creates – so much so that in the new creation of Revelation there is no sea (Rev. 21:1). Just before our text from Luke for this Sunday, Jesus and his disciples find themselves caught up in the chaos of a storm on the lake of Galilee. Jesus, apparently a sound sleeper, is not aware of the storm until his disciples awaken him in their full-fledged panic. Easily rebuking the wind and waves, a calm ensues while Jesus rebukes the lack of faith in his disciples and they wonder just who this guy is.
Faith – trust in God and in God’s way – is at the core of all of the readings this Sunday: Elijah bemoans the lack of it in Israel, the Psalmist is trying desperately to hold on to it and Paul deems it the heart of the matter in the text from Galatians.
Stepping onto foreign ground on the opposite side of the lake, the demons know exactly who Jesus is – Son of the Most High God! They immediately recognize his power over them. They are the ones now panicked, clarifying Jesus’ reaction on the lake to his disciples’ lack of faith.
The unnamed man the demons have had power over has been living no life at all. Estranged from any form of community due to his erratic behavior, he lives among the dead. His only occasional companion a guard, his people at their wits end can only chain and shackle him. These he breaks to be driven into the wilderness, naked. Even switching from singular to plural as he addresses Jesus regarding himself demonstrates the bonds of chaos holding him that no one can seem to break. His is one of the bleakest existences described in scripture…a hopeless situation.
A pause here allows us to contemplate the many situations in our personal and corporate lives that we view as intractable – beyond hope. Will there ever be peace in the Middle East? Will our addictions to drugs, alcohol, food, fame, wealth ever be cured? Will evil in all its Legion forms be finally and forever eradicated?
Jesus’ answer in action, carried out as easily as he calmed the wild wind and waves, as easily as Creation is spoken into being at the beginning, is a resounding “YES!” Then those gentile shepherds, the swineherds, run to spread the word and people come to discover the miracle of a sane man, clothed and sitting at the feet of Jesus. Perhaps their reaction, to ask Jesus to leave, is partly motivated by the obvious economic impact of losing a large herd of pigs. More so, though, I think it mimics Peter’s earlier reaction in Luke 5:8 when confronted with the overwhelming catch of fish: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” This sort of reaction is also seen in the Israelites to the presence of God on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 20:19) and in Isaiah’s vision (Isaiah 6:5). Gentiles they may be but they know when they have encountered the Holy. Perhaps it is also too much yet to contemplate that the status quo can indeed change, the personal and corporate implications of which can be frightening.
Jesus’ pastoral response is to leave, without judgement or critique of the gentile’s fearful reaction. He seems to understand. But he does not leave them without a witness; a witness they know and one whose debt of gratitude runs very deep. It is unlikely he will let them forget what God has done for him in Christ Jesus. And we know that word of mouth witness can be the most trustworthy and powerful kind.
The unnamed man, known to us only as the Gerasene demoniac, both is, and is a model for, the church. We are those who are aware of our deep debt of gratitude to Christ’s saving work, who love the God we meet in Jesus and want to follow him, who go out to those we know and even those we don’t in grateful, loving, powerfully trustworthy witness to what God has done, is doing and will yet do for us. Thanks be to God.