Healing the Unclean

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In this passage about Jesus’ healing of the Gerasene demoniac, we confront the mystery of transformation. This story is in the other synoptic Gospels as well: in Matthew 8:28-34, and, Luke 8:26-39. It is a powerful scene, full of terror and violence, contrasted by Jesus’ fearlessness and his bold response. It is a confrontation with the reality of evil, and it is much more real than what we get in modern movies, and pop culture. Unlike pop culture’s film and TV portrayals of evil, in this passage we see the truth that evil is rightfully fearful of Jesus. These devils know who Jesus is. I say devils, because when Jesus asks, ʺWhat is your name?ʺ Their response is, ʺLegion is my name.ʺ They know that, though they have had power over this poor man’s body, mind and soul for some time, they have absolutely no power in the presence of the Son of God. They know their nothingness before him.

What does this passage have to say to us today, and to our culture about sin and evil? In Luke’s account we read: ʺFor a long time this man had gone without clothes…ʺ In all three accounts, we read about the fact that the possessed man is so violent that he can not be restrained, even by chains and shackles, and that he lives among the tombs, or the burial caves. Mark and Luke reveal to us that this man is possessed by not one, but by many, devils. These three things: nakedness, violence, and a kind of split personality, are important signs to help us recognize sin and evil in both individuals and in the culture in general.

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Look anywhere in our culture today and you will see nakedness, or nudity, used to entice, to sell, and to promote just about everything. You’ve heard the term, ʺSex sells.ʺ I recently saw a bumper sticker that read, ʺReading is sexy,ʺ implying, I guess, that unless you describe it so, you will not be able to get young people to read today. Somehow, we have come to believe that if something is not ʺsexyʺ it is not valued. You get the point.

Violence is everywhere around us. We read about it on the world stage, and in our local, daily newspapers. It pervades every sector of society, from top to bottom. Our pop culture is flooded with it from song lyrics to movies. And all too often, sex and violence are paired together. And it all gets more and more graphic precisely because, as individuals, as a society, as a culture, we are becoming inured to it, and benumbed by it.

The idea of a ʺsplit personalityʺ is marked by dissociation, passivity, and indifference to praise or criticism, a multiple personality. This could be understood as a modern description for ʺLegion.ʺ And it is an apt description of our society today. Too many today are dissociated from society, indeed, even defiant of it. Too many feel overwhelmed by the world and have become passive in the face of injustices of every kind. They say, ʺIt’s not my responsibility.ʺ We hear that everywhere, from our leading politicians, down to even the most local of situations at work, or at home. Maybe we ourselves say this. There are so many who are so possessed by ego, by selfishness, that they are indifferent to either praise or criticism, and they will accept no such things from anyone but themselves. Nor will they offer any. And hypocrisy is the ultimate form of split personality. Of course, our time is no different than any other time. What Christians know is that only Jesus has the power to free us from the chains and shackles that bind us individually, and as a culture.

Our culture needs every Christian to give him or herself over to Jesus so completely that he or she might be used as an instrument in God’s hands, transformed by his forgiveness and empowered by his grace, to help move society away from the culture of death that surrounds us, to a renewed culture of life. We must, in faith, submit our whole selves, freely, to his transforming power. We must believe in its efficacy. We must let God transform us, cleanse us, according to his will, not our own.

Let us pray: Lord, protect me from the evil one, free me from all that binds and shackles me. Give me the grace to submit, freely and willingly, to your will alone. For in you, and you alone, is my natural, and my eternal health and well-being, made whole. Then, according to your will, not mine, use me as an instrument of your transforming love in my home, at my work, and in all that I do. In your name, Jesus, I faithfully pray. Amen.

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.