Saint Margaret’s Anglican Church Budapest, Hungary The Second Sunday After Pentecost 1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a; Psalm 22; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39 “Jesus and his disciples arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.” Curiously, no one seems to know who the Gerasenes of today’s Gospel account were; much less where exactly “the country of the Gerasenes,” as it is called, was located. Matthew, in his telling of the same story, calls them “Gadarenes,” by the way. Same people...? No one knows. The text makes clear however that, whoever they were and wherever they lived, they were most definitely not Jews. They lived “opposite Galilee,” in Gentile territory in other words; the far side of the moon as far as Jesus and his disciples would have been concerned. And they kept pigs, presumably to eat, about as alien and horrifying a concept as a Jew of the time could possibly imagine. And to get to this strange and exotic place, Jesus crosses the Sea of Galilee with his disciples in the middle of a storm no less. And while all three of the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, tell this story; none of them explains what possessed – pun intended -- our Lord to make this arduous journey in the first place, to this land of pagans, pigs, and demons. Nor does Luke, in this morning’s text, explain how they ended up coming ashore in the middle of what seems to have been a cemetery of all places. Our Lord no sooner gets off the boat and steps onto solid ground than he is confronted by a man believed to be possessed by demons or evil spirits and who apparently lives a wild and disordered life among the tombs of the place, a safe refuge perhaps from the torments of neighbours and family who would have just as soon avoided the evil spirits lurking in such a place and in him. It is almost as if to suggest that the possessed man is as good as dead himself; dispossessed of all human companionship and dignity, having not even a stitch of clothing to cover his nakedness. For most of human history and in most of the world’s cultures, people or individuals such as this hapless spirit-possessed man of the Gospel telling were seen as being as far from the presence of God as one could hope to imagine. They were in a sense the living dead, those without hope of healing or normal life, those barely human at all. Yet, it is just this man that our Lord encounters, almost it seems by chance, yet with his divine purpose promptly revealed.
Names are exchanged, almost startlingly, as an exercise in control and power perhaps, the possessed man immediately declaring “Jesus, Son of the Most High;” Jesus in turn asking rather politely and kindly it seems to me, “What is your name?” Our Lord promptly casts out the “Legion” of spirits possessing the man, as the spirits call themselves, and rather than sending them off “back into the abyss,” where they properly belong, does them the favour of sending them into a herd of pigs instead. In any case, the pigs in turn promptly hurl themselves into the sea, upon whose troubled waters our Lord had so recently arrived, thus dispossessing the demons of what was not theirs to begin with and allowing the man in question to repossess his rightful humanity. He now calmly sits at the feet of Jesus, fully clothed and of sound mind. Yet, all the thanks Jesus gets for his effort is in a sense an invitation to leave. For, the people of the town were “seized by great fear.” Jesus and his Gospel of mercy are apparently not welcome among the Gerasenes who apparently fear anyone or anything different from themselves, no matter what unexpected grace may be on offer. After all, you cannot be too careful. No telling what this Jesus might want or be up to. There are still those among us, and among our nations and leaders, who similarly fear the other, fear the person, like Jesus, from across the Sea; the one who thinks differently. Leave us alone they say to the stranger. Leave us alone, they say, to Christ himself. With our contemporary sensibilities this story of demons and the possessed from long ago and far away may seem hard to credit. We might be tempted to think that what this poor Gerasene wild man probably needed most was a good psychiatrist and proper medication. And, to that extent we may be right. Where is Vienna’s Doctor Freud when you really need him, we might wish to ask. Still, it might be healthy, indeed mentally healthy, to remind ourselves that, no matter the advances of modern medicine and psychiatry, there are still plenty of evil spirits lurking about in the world today, some of them at work right here and in neighbouring lands, bringing war and mayhem in their wake. So, Jesus’ miracle may not be so farfetched after all. Evil still claims what is not its own to claim, dispossessing the poor and oppressed yet further. Demons still spread falsehoods and lies, fake news, if you will, as they always have, confusing the gullible and innocent and stirring others to yet more evil. Evil enslaves people in poverty and serfdom. Evil has one rule for itself; another for the rest. Evil turns Jew against Greek, slave against free, and male against female, to borrow Paul’s language from our second Reading today. Our so-called contemporary newsfeeds are filled with just such tales of the evil spirits of our day. Still, there is hope. After all, this Gospel account is not so much about evil as it is instead an emphatic reminder of the power of the Good, of the Gospel to overcome evil. In other words, there is no place, no-thing, no time on earth or in the universe which is beyond the power of God’s love, healing, and acceptance. Nothing: Not alien and Gentile lands such as those of the Gerasenes; not people who regularly eat pork; not tombs and the place of the dead; not any spirit, evil or good; not tyrants and dictators; not bullies, homophobes, or racists. The power of the Gospel, of Christ, overcomes all, rules all. And the Possessed Man, now in his right mind, becomes among the first to proclaim Jesus as Son of God. But in his case, he is sent home; no demanding missionary journeys such as Paul’s for him apparently. “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you,” commands our Lord. It does not get much easier than that, my friends. So, where is that “country of the Gerasenes...?” Probably right here at home; right here in
the midst of us, the Gerasenes of today. So, go home this day and declare how much God has done for you.” Amen. The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs