Simply Put... You Are Not Jesus
We have arrived in new territory, literally, alongside Jesus and his disciples as they encounter a man who was forced to live outside his community. Jesus and his disciples left the “friendly confines” of Jewish Territory and found themselves in Gentile territory. The Gospel writer tells us, “One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side of the lake.’”“Let us go across to the other side."
Author Brian McLaren, in his book The Church on the Other Side, notes that whenever we find Jesus and the disciples going to the “other side,” as readers, we better pay attention because what Jesus is about to do or is about to say in those words printed in red are going to flip a social reality of his, which in turn has the ability to flip a social reality for us 2000 years later. Something BIG happens, McLaren writes, every time Jesus and the disciples go to the “other side.”
After calming a storm in the sea, revealing his authority over the wind and water, Jesus made landfall in Gerasene Territory and was confronted by a man possessed by demons. We read that as Jesus stepped out of the boat he was confronted by the demons, not by the man who had so many that their name was Legion. This unnamed, possessed man was such a threat to his community that he was forced, chained, to live among the dead. Living among the tombs this man was barely alive. This man’s community spent time and resources to keep him separated from them. The community removed and restrained this man from their sight, so that they would not be reminded of his presence and yet, he was able to escape their vain attempts. Then again, the community would remove and restrain the man.
Remove and restrain.
Remove and restrain.
Fearful of what this man might do to their community.
The legion of demons recognized Jesus, even naming his divinity, “Son of the Most High” and knelt down to pay him homage. The demons named Legion knew what the disciples had just learned as Jesus calmed the seas during their voyage to the other side - Jesus holds dominion over all of creation.
Jesus is Lord.
The legion of demons then negotiated with Jesus, working out the terms of release to free the man they had taken up residence in. “They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.”
Then in a twist of events, what the legion of demons attempted to avoid happened. They entered into a herd of pigs and “rushed down the steep bank and into the lake and was drowned.” The man was freed and as his neighbors found out what had happened, just like the man once seized and controlled by Legion, the community was seized and controlled by fear.
Jesus went to the other side, freed the man they had kept chained among the dead and in the process Jesus killed/destroyed a sizable economic investment and community resource. Jesus, in freeing the unnamed man, told the community that freeing the one(s) you have removed and restrained comes at a cost.
Rather than seeing their neighbor freed from his bondage and welcoming him home, the community was seized and controlled by fear and turned on Jesus. Jesus, in freeing the man, revealed that the community’s own self-interest was more important than the grace and mercy they had just witnessed. The community’s self-interest was more important than welcoming and freeing the one they had removed and restrained.
We are starting a new sermon series this week that will take us through the summer - Simply Put. The summer can be a time where we seek simplicity and rest and yet the busyness of the coming months offers us anything but simple. As we explore the scripture readings each week we will look at the texts with simplicity, not looking for complicated theological revelation but instead examining what the texts simply say.
So, simply put… you, we, me are not Jesus.
It is easy to read this story and think that you, we, or me are Jesus, offering freedom to those on the margins, freedom to those who have been removed and restrained. And if we are not Jesus, then perhaps we are the disciples watching from a safe distance or maybe we are the man being freed. I do not want to discount the freeing power Christ has done in your life - because the grace and mercy of Christ is ever present where people are removed and restrained, but in this story and the stories where Jesus goes to the other side we appear in the story more often than not whenever we view the other - the one removed and restrained - as something to be fixed or solved. Jesus saw the unnamed, looking past the legion of demons who took up residence in his body, while the community saw the man as a problem to be solved, a situation needing to be addressed.
In vain attempts to protect our own self-interests we run the risk of using them, the other, to show/highlight what is so right about us by emphasizing the otherness of them. We use the nakedness and shame we create for them to cover/mask our own shame.
Whenever Jesus is teaching and healing, more often than not we are not the people we like to think ourselves to be in the story. While we may have once been lost and found like the prodigal son, I would suspect many of us are more like the older brother standing outside the party with our arms crossed mumbling under our breath about what a screw up our younger sibling is.
An all about me mentality puts us in the story where we do not belong. We are not Jesus and yet we often try to reallocate the agency of the Most High Son for ourselves because like the rich young ruler who wanted to know what it would take to enter the Kingdom of God, Jesus may ask us to send something down the steep hill and into the abyss that we are not ready to give up.
It was Jesus that freed the man removed and restrained by his community, not the disciples.
It was Jesus that freed the man by removing the restraints place on him by his community, not some do-gooder neighbor that finally felt guilty about the man’s situation.
So thanks be to G-d that we are not Jesus because how often do we ignore the bondage of those removed and restrained from the community. How often to we fail to act when we see a person laying by the side of the road and choose to pass by on the other side rather than bandaging that person’s wounds?
Jesus, extended freedom and mercy to the unnamed man and Jesus extends freedom and mercy, through his bride, the Church Universal, whenever we respond to the movement of the Holy Spirit and go where we are sent by the Most High Son. When we respond to the movement of the Holy Spirit and go, engaging in acts of justice and mercy, we are instruments of Christ’s grace and mercy. We are instruments being used by Christ but we are not Jesus.
Jesus told his disciples “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you… the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (John 14:18)
So while we may not be Jesus, like those removed and restrained and living among the dead, Jesus does not leave us to ourselves. Jesus does not leave those removed and restrained to live among the dead. Jesus still steps out of the boat, into the land of the other - the lands created for us and the lands we create to protect ourselves - and extends G-d’s grace.
We are recipients of the extravagant grace of G-d, as we emerged from our Baptismal waters and every time we gather around the Most High Son’s table. And as we emerge from the water and commune around the table, being filled with the Holy Spirit - the Advocate and Counselor - we are able to be used by Jesus to extend an invitation to the same extravagant grace of G-d we so dearly rely upon.
The healed man rejoined his community, becoming the first missionary to the Gentiles. The healed man was a physical reminder of not only Jesus’ authority over all of creation but a reminder of G-d’s unwavering love. Jesus has and will continue to enter into our lives, entering this community, even if we are seized/possessed by fear of giving up our self-interest and living as lord of what we have attempted to create. His grace and mercy is unwavering.