The Gospel reading set for this coming Sunday is Luke 8:26-39, in which we meet a man possessed by a legion of demons.
I note the ubiquity of alien life-forms, of gods and monsters, benevolent or malevolent, of the supernatural and paranormal, in the stories that capture our imaginations on screen and page. They can be projections of our inner selves, the battle between serving others for the common good or selfishly seeking to control others. Or ciphers of the clash of nations, cultures, proxy wars in which we find ourselves caught up. The strength of will to survive, in the face of challenges, perceived or real. And the recognition that these things, even as they are within us, are simultaneously out-with us, bigger than any individual, a shared experience. Awareness of demons might indicate that our mental health is out-of-kilter, or that our mental health is robust, in a world that is out-of-kilter. I note these things, and I take it as read that this man is possessed by demons; that we know perfectly well that demons are real; and that we know that demons must be wrestled with and overcome.
The man is weighed down by layers of stories, from which some part or other, or himself, erupt, from time to time. He lives in, or rather on the edge of, an Hellenistic city-state enjoying an autonomy guaranteed by Roman protection in the context of a surrounding Jewish culture. The Greeks, settling in the wake of Alexander the Great, brought their stories of Zeus of Olympus, and, seeing parallel universes, named local gods as multi-Zeus’s. Later, the Romans brought their own pantheon of gods in parallel with those of Greece, and with them the imperial cult, the emperor as the son of a god. The independence of the city-states of the Decapolis from Rome was protected by Rome, raising further cognitive dissonance. Caught in this is a man whose identity is shattered into countless, swirling parts, in search of resolution, wholeness, a singular story.
One might suggest that the way to be set free would be to throw off the shackles of every layer of story. And yet there is ample evidence to suggest that there is no such story-naked stance, only the search for a story to live by.
Into the story steps Jesus, the one who is possessed by love, which by its nature does not grasp but sets free. The one who desires neither to control, nor extract, but to make possible restored relationships.
And the people of the city-state are terrified. But the man who knew terror from the inside out was in his right mind.
Jesus sent him to tell his household—having been restored—what God had done for him. The man, recognising that what God had done for him was done in and through Jesus being with him, went and proclaimed through the entire city population what Jesus had done for him. It is one and the same, and the ripples spread from the one man to his family to his neighbours, from the domestic to the civic.
Such stories retain their cultural currency today, and those who have a story to tell of what God has done for them should tell them, humbly, but with confidence.
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