Where are his people?
When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs….When they (the people) came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet dressed and in his right mind.
June 17, 2022, Words By: Lina Thompson, Image By: Geoffrey Whiteway
Today’s passage tells of Jesus’ encounter with a demon-possessed man. This isn’t the only story about possession in the Bible, but it’s one of the more dramatic: exorcised demons cast into a herd of pigs, a man healed and restored to society, and a community struggling to grasp what God was doing right before their eyes.
I’ve preached on this text a lot. But this time, there is something different that is resonating with me. More than the demon possession, I found myself wondering about this man’s isolation and disconnection from his community. As I read the text, I wanted to ask, “Where are his people?!?!”
There’s a part of me that understands his people being fearful and wanting distance…and maybe even their desperation. After all, the scripture says he had been naked and homeless for a long time, living in the tombs. It sounds like his situation was complicated. And I’m not sure modern society would respond much better than our counterparts 2,000 years ago. Outside of the movies, we don’t see a whole lot of demon possession these days. But this man’s circumstances aren’t unfamiliar to us either.
I thought about this passage the other day when I was walking into the local Staples. I noticed a half-dressed gentleman carrying a green trash bag slung over his shoulder, filled with clothes. He was walking in my direction, talking loudly to me (or to himself). This happens on a fairly regular basis when I am at that shopping center. I don’t know how long he had been half-clothed, apparently unhoused, and living this way. But I bet it’s been a long time.
We’re not all that dissimilar to the Gerasenes. What was wrong, and broken, and disconnected with them is still the same with us. We easily discard people’s humanity when their pain is too hard to look at, or when it gets in the way of our daily business — like purchasing a desk calendar at Staples.
This is such a hot issue for many communities right now. Some folks want to criminalize unhoused people for public loitering. But they won’t provide ample community space (day centers) where the unhoused can go. When affordable housing and mental health resources are targeted directly to support unhoused people, community members often push back. I think people want to help as long as it’s far away from where they live.
How do we move toward a society, and a vision of Shalom, where all people are treated with dignity and as beloved siblings? This, in my mind, is the unique space of the local church in the life of community. We have a very important role to play in conversations about community health and well-being. We can certainly help individuals with food, clothing, and maybe even shelter. AND we can also leverage our collective power with others to reset and lay the kind of foundation for a beloved community rooted in concern and love for our neighbors, as the Gospel compels us.
After his healing, the once demon-possessed man was found to be fully clothed and in his “right-mind” sitting at Jesus’ feet, the posture of a disciple. I long for this vision to pass in my own community, that all people would be fully “clothed” — their spiritual, physical, emotional and spiritual needs met. I believe local congregations can be an important part of this vision.
Dwelling Among Us
What if the “legion” of demons in this week’s text are the representation of a community’s collective sin? This would make the demoniac not just an individual with problems, but a symptom of the community’s sickness. If so, what are the implications of this reading?