To Bring home the bacon means to make a living, to earn money, to achieve financial support, but when Jesus visits the Garasenes in today’s Gospel, he gives the idiom a whole new meaning.
This week’s Gospel finds Jesus crossing the lake into the territory of the Garasenes. He no sooner steps off the boat onto the rocky beach than he hears the tormented screams of a man isolated and cowering in the in the shadows of the caves among the tombs on the hillside. Almost every illness that was not understood in those ancient times was deemed to be demon possession. So, this man was possessed and everyone in the district knew it. They bound him in chains and fetters and even commissioned guards to watch him. The Garasenes needed the man to be out of sight and out of mind. They needed to attend to everyday life, and they could not be regularly confronted by something they didn’t understand.
By now we should all know that when Jesus steps off the boat things are going to roll. We know that the status quo is about to be disrupted, and so it was. Jesus heals this man, and, of course, the healing is described as an exorcism. But for a moment consider what the Biblical scholar, John Dominic Crossan writes about such healings. He says Jesus first and foremost healed by approaching and accepting. In other words, Jesus broke the isolation and entered into a relationship with the man after years of rejection and outright imprisonment.
Now most people want to know about those kamikaze pigs in today’s Gospel, the ones that hurled themselves over the cliff’s edge and into the sea below. I probably should know better than this, but you could say that this is the only “sooeycide” recorded in the Bible (my apologies). The fact is, that if you read 12 scholarly opinions on this bizarre twist in the story, you will most likely get 12 different possibilities of meaning. As one tradition would have it, two of the pigs held a conversation while the lot of them were running headlong into the sea. The one pig asked the other, “Do you know where we’re going?” To which the other pig responded, “No, but we’re sure getting there in a hurry!” My guess is that Luke created this twist to say that in no uncertain terms when Jesus heals, it’s fast, thorough, and complete. In a matter of minutes, a long period of torture was ended, and Jesus had the man clothed and the shackles removed.
Now, if you stop to think about it, this is a wonderful and joyful story. This is an Easter Story. The man is chained in the tomb. He is for all intents and purposes DEAD. But he is raised by Jesus. He is set free from the tombs that imprisoned him. Somebody’s son, or brother, or husband, or father could now return home.
Now you would think that the people in that region would be lining up along the road shouting “ALLELUIAS,” and that a couple of the strongest men in the town would carry the man home on their shoulders. You would expect the Red-Carpet treatment! I should think that the parties in his honor would last for days on end. BUT SOMETHING IS WRONG. Something is terribly wrong! Next, a few of them come to investigate, and they are told the story of how Jesus had healed the man and set him free, and sure enough, they find this to be true. Were they happy? No, they were afraid. In fact, so afraid that they asked this miracle worker, this prophet from Nazareth, to quietly leave their little community with a post-it-note attached to his tunic that said, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you!”
What do you suppose they were afraid of anyway? I think their fear stems from something much deeper than a now depressed swine-based economy. I think that those Garasenes were in a way possessed themselves. I think they were possessed by the fear that they were going to be next. If they allowed this Jesus to hang around long enough things might really get tough. The comfortable status quo might always be in turmoil. They liked the status quo. They liked having those who weren’t like them chained up in the caves, so they could go on living their peaceful little lives unfettered by having to think too hard about humanity and humaneness. I really think that most of us have a Gerasene moment now and again. We want God around except when it’s not terribly convenient. We don’t really want Jesus to exorcise away all our evils, do we? I’m reminded of St. Augustine who used to pray for the grace of chastity, but then he would add, “but not too soon, dear Lord.”
Somehow those Garasenes knew so long ago what I think most of us know only too well today. That if you invite Jesus into your life, he doesn’t always come bearing warm fuzzies. Jesus would still put love of enemies at the top of his list, even in post 911 America.
Somehow, well before the events of Holy Week, those Garasenes knew that when Jesus comes something is going to have to die and go to the tomb for there to be resurrection! It only took one meeting with the Savior for them to know that he would expect much from them. So, they ask the Savior of the World to exit their little town. “We’ll exorcise our own demons thank you. We may want to keep a few around if they fit well, but either way, we’ll decide. We don’t need you, Jesus, so you just high tail it back to Nazareth, and we’ll forget this ever happened.”
At least once a week we pray in the Lord’s prayer, “Deliver us from evil.”
What runs through our mind when we pray that simple little four-word phrase, “Deliver us from evil” Doesn’t that sometimes translate, “Deliver us from Cancer and other illness. Deliver us from the crime on the streets. Deliver us from nuclear war. Deliver us from economic hardships”? Yes, Jesus, deliver me from the really painful things, but don’t meddle too much in my private life. If you’re going to get too personal, if you are going to meddle in how I think about other people, and mess around in my politics, then I’d just as soon you would leave for now until I summon you to return.”
It’s those demons that we hardly ever think about that do the most damage.
“What would Jesus do?” WWJD. I don’t see it in print as much as I did a few years back. I wonder if it is a fad that has passed, or if it made people just slightly uncomfortable. We want to cry, “Help me Jesus, heal me Jesus, bless me Jesus,” but most of the time we’re not as quick to ask, “How would you have me treat that person, Jesus?”
We also pray these words every week, “Thy Kingdom Come, thy will be done.” Do we really mean that? Do we really want God’s will to be done if it means even a small death for us? Do we really want to put all our prejudices and exclusive tendencies, and that little bit of self-righteousness that makes us feel so good. . .do we really want to put them to death?
The bottom line?
If we want Christ, then we need to REALLY WANT Christ.
I’d like to close with this story of a man who offered himself for what he thought was a baptismal service. The priest took him by the shoulders and lowered him under the water and then placed one knee upon him, and with all his might held him there, and held him, and held him. When the man was running out of air, he began to struggle to be free, and he struggled, and he struggled, but the priest just bore down harder upon him. At the last moment, as his chest felt like it was about to explode, he broke loose and burst up through the surface of the water. He looked half angry, and half bewildered. The old priest looked into the man’s eyes rather stoically for a moment, and then remarked: “When you want Christ as much as you wanted air, you shall find Christ!”
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