Today’s lectionary presents the controversy of demon possession, noted in Luke 8:26-39. Christians are divided about demon possession and yet despite the difficulties there are valuable lessons for the discerning reader.
The possession story begins with Jesus’ arrival at the region of the Gerasenes, where Jesus was confronted by an angry hermit living in the cemetery near shore. The afflicted man had been previously captured by townspeople, bound by chains and guarded, only to escape again to the tombs. The man said his name was “Legion,” referencing his many demons. Jesus, determined to cure the possessed man, allowed the demons to enter a nearby swine herd rather than banishing them to the abyss. Now filled with demons, the overwhelmed pigs ran into the lake and drown. The people in the region were alarmed by the disturbing drama and asked Jesus to leave.
After Jesus healed, word spread that the formerly demon-possessed man was now acting in his right mind. Moreover, the rescued man sought to follow Jesus, who advised him to remain as a living testimony about his miraculous healing. It had now come full circle because a wild man who had previously run naked and bruised among graves was now Jesus’ disciple. Speaking of transformations, what’s your story? You may not have had such an extreme situation but if God can heal the severely afflicted man then there’s hope for you.
Literal truth or simply literary flourish, today’s episode about possession points to something greater. Whether Hollywood-style demons are to blame for illnesses or not doesn’t diminish the greater lesson that God can heal desperately ill people. Rather than focus on the historical details and risk getting stuck in the theological weeds, the task is to embrace teachable moments. It’s futile to argue about how much illness is due to demons versus an imbalance in brain chemicals or neurological impairments. A vital truth here is that sickness can have various sources and treatments.
The story of the Gerasenes man emphasizes the way people can be plagued by debilitating problems. Again, causes of illness are varied, and modern medical science reveals insights as much as an ancient possession story. In today’s context, it may be that a psychiatrist would diagnose that ancient man’s symptoms as a treatable case of schizoaffective disorder, managed by a prescription and psychotherapy rather than an exorcism. Either way, realize that healing is a blessing, whether it comes from Jesus or a licensed health professional.
Crucial in any biblical narrative is the moral principle or ethical lesson, which can transcend individual elements that comprise the story. In this case, it’s worth repeating that the story of the Gerasenes man demonstrates that God can heal. It’s also worth noting that when someone’s illness is sufficiently bad it can affect others. It took a village to corral the unhealed man and until Jesus came along there didn’t seem to be much hope. Humans are social creatures and God often conveys blessings and healings through other people. This is a beautiful testimony to how we are interconnected, each person made in the spiritual image of God. We are here to help take care of one another.
Are you struggling to overcome a problem? Are you plagued by the demons of substance abuse, addiction, bad thinking, dysfunctional relationships, depression or some other adverse condition? Help is available! God can heal through your faith, by your behavior and attitude modification, and through numerous medical interventions. Regardless of the causes of your ills, embrace God and demonstrate how spiritual power transforms from within. The drama of soggy swine, desperate demons, and naked hermits aside, God is ready to help you transcend life’s challenges. –Reverend Larry Hoxey