by Pastor Katy Stenta
“Legion: for We are many”
I think it is amazing that Jesus gets the man to name his demon…or the demon to name itself before Jesus expelled it from the poor man.
How many times do we need to name our demons before we can get rid of them? If it’s something that is (typically) smaller like jealousy or self-righteousness or something all encompassing like mental illness or addiction, so often we humans need to name a problem before we can even work on it.
And don’t we all have demon voices, terrible self-erasing voices in our heads twisting the way we see the world.
Whether they are the kind of demons that self-aggrandize (though I don’t think that is this demon’s way) telling us that we are better than everyone else, telling us we deserve more than others, dismissing others as meaningless, insignificant (or worse of all) dehumanizing them so that we don’t have to care for each other. There are strong echoes of the need for Anti-racists and Anti-Terf and Anti-Ageist work across the board. It’s the voice that tells us we are better Christians (or patriots or workers or whatever) and don’t need to listen to anybody else. Martin Luther King Jr looked towards the humanization of all people and basic humans rights, beyond the dehumanizing results of institutions and systems the include the church and capitalism and nationalism.
Or there is if it is the demon voice that points out every one of our anxieties and failings. It harps on our imperfections and plays our mistakes on repeat in our heads. It gets us to focus on all that is wrong with us and the world so that we cannot hear the voice of God anymore. We devalue ourselves, and can no longer see ourselves as the image of God.
They erase and X out our names and existence (Madeline L’engle covers this well in her Time Quartet)
When I hear the story of the man tormented by legion–even though no details are given as to how they are making him feel and act crazy only the side effects. When I hear he can’t stand still, and he is driven to live alone, uncleanly with the dead. When I hear that he is cast out as better to be with the dead than the living. I have no trouble hearing those doubting and harping demons in this man’s mind.
In essence that is what the Screwtape Letters is about. The demon has the human focus on the high pitch voices, the gum smacking neighbor and the squeaking shoe fidgeted until these people are no longer seen as community but as annoyances, and all of church is seen as annoying and there is no room to focus on God.
But when we name these problems in our lives, when we lift up our imperfections and sins for prayer, when we ask for support from others and talk about our insecurities. Then people can help us to name all that we did do that day, and how our imperfections are small compared to being a beloved child of God. They lift up that people care for us even when we make mistakes. And remind us of our friends and neighbors good qualities even when (especially when) they are driving us to distraction.
Maybe then it is no surprise that Jesus restores the Gerasenes Man to his community. I do not think it is about if this man is good enough to follow Jesus, nor about his will to follow for he wants to follow Jesus. I think that Jesus has decided that to complete the healing, this man needs to be restored to his community–so he says “god back to your friends…” The community that hopefully can counter the years of bad and do a better job of nurturing and supporting this man. And I hope we as the church can do the same.