Proper 7C: thoughts and exegesis

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Gospels / Lectionary / New Testament

He did not live in a house but in the tombs.

He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles.

He was driven by the demon into the wilds.

For a long time he had worn no clothes.

Until he met Jesus. Then he was clothed and in his right mind.

You’d think this story of great deliverance would have a happier ending. You’d think the townsfolk would be so happy that this scary naked man who lived in the graveyard was healed that they’d throw a party. Or at least thank Jesus profusely.

But, they were afraid. All the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.

The man used to be seized and thrown in shackles. Now they’re seized with fear of Jesus.

The freedom and New Life that Jesus offers is so overpowering that often it scares the wits out of people.

And, in a sense, that’s the whole Story of the Bible. When people are held captive by brothers who want to do a favored brother in, by a power-hungry Pharaoh, by a Babylonian army, by the power of sin and death itself – God sets his people free.

But, when God winds up to liberate and break bonds, God doesn’t think small. He doesn’t look for the path of least resistance, or try to keep the footprint small. He looses the locusts. And the frogs. And the boils. And the angel of death. And when he draws the water back, he sends it smashing down on Pharaoh and his sorry little army.

Horse and rider has he thrown into the sea.

Scholars have pointed out some interesting ways that this story that takes place with Jesus in the land of the Gerasenes has many parallels to the story of Moses and the Exodus.

I’ve never farmed pigs before, but from what I hear, pigs don’t move as a herd. They’re independent animals who moved alone or in small confused packs. But, when Jesus allows the demons to move into the pigs, they move as a herd – like a legion of soldiers – in one direction.

Over the cliff and into the water.

Just like Pharaoh’s army. Like his legions.

Horse and rider has he thrown into the sea.

Like the Israelites were freed from the shackles of slavery, and their oppressors were drowned, so was this man freed from shackles and his bodily occupiers were drowned.

And, so the scholars are onto something when they say that there are interesting parallels.

But, that’s not all that’s going on here.

Because it wasn’t the demons who had him shackled. It was the townsfolk.

And they didn’t like this newfound freedom and mental sanity.

They were scared to death. Seized with fear.

Sometimes it’s easier to keep things shackled up, than deal with the ramifications or freedom.

Or, more bluntly, sometimes it’s easier to keep other people shackled, than deal with the messiness of their liberation.

Sometimes the demons are handy. They keep things predicable.

They keep people naked and by the tombs where they’re supposed to be.

Like all the stories of liberation and redemption in the scriptures, this story invites us in as the one who is shackled and bound. We are the man living not in a house, but in the tombs. Like Lazarus, we stinketh of death, and Jesus breaks the bond and frees us.

Hallelujah.

But, this story also, uncomfortably, invites us in as the people of the land of the Gerasenes, who keep things and other people bound up instead of breaking through our fear and rejoicing when liberty springs.

Sometimes we bind others. Sometimes we keep ourselves bound.

We suppress emotions, feelings, an untidy and embarrassing past – locked up inside us like an army of demons. We think that by holding the demons down we’re making life better, more tolerable, and better looking for the neighbors.

But death always stinks like death. You can’t pretty that up. And sometime or another the demon breaks loose again and runs into the wild.

And that’s never good.

Unlike the story of the Exodus which singularly proclaims we are free from all bonds by the extraordinary power of God, this story sheds light on those times when we are more like Pharaoh; either binding ourselves or binding another.

But, like the Exodus, and the proclamation of Resurrection and the empty tomb, horse and rider does he throw into the sea.

When we’re living shackled by the tombs. And when we’re the rider.