1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a and Psalm 42 and 43 • Galatians 3:23-29 • Luke 8:26-39
Most of us have at least one person with demons – a 'demoniac' – in the family. Crazy Aunt Lucille, perhaps. Or goofy cousin Larry. Usually, the family started focusing on these folks pretty early in life. Often, something else had gone wrong: someone had died, or lost a job, or whatever. Everyone is already anxious. And then a person comes along, perhaps with a symptom of some kind, bringing a place to put all that worry. Somehow, focusing on him or her beats dealing with the real problems. And it brings the added benefit of calming everyone down: no one is arguing when everyone is joined in worrying about Larry or Lucille. The focused-on person alternates between loving and hating her position in the family. There are advantages to everyone thinking one is weak: less responsibility, for one. But there are disadvantages also: less chance to practice the skills leading to competency, less chance to grow up. In the end, the focused-on person loses so much self when with her family that she can only tolerate so much togetherness; at the same time, her lack of maturity gets in the way when she tries to be responsible for herself.
Here enters the demoniac in today's story. In a manner somewhat like today's homeless persons, he has not only his family's focus, but somehow the entire community's attention on him. He wanders naked, living among the tombs. He calls himself as "legion," or "regiment," an apparent ironic reference to the Roman invaders who had oppressed the entire community in a way similar to his own inner submission to an overwhelming loss of self.
Jesus finds the way to his real self, bringing back a clothed and fully restored human being. Unsurprisingly, the man begs to follow Jesus wherever he goes. After all, why would he want to stay there? Memories of wandering the tombs would haunt him. The oppressive presence of Romans soldiers would remain unchanged. His family would continue to focus on him. Under these circumstances, how could Jesus tell him to stay home? But this is precisely what Jesus does tell him to do: with one twist. Go back home, he says, and tell everyone what God has done for you. In other words, go back home, insisting on being your full self. Do not cave under the pressure to once again become someone for others to worry about. Show them who you have become in how you live.
Leaving one's current situation to solve one's problems is familiar territory for many of us. In this story, Jesus insists on the opposite: stay where you are without losing yourself. Perhaps one corollary might be added: stay where you are without requiring others to give up who they are. No easy task, but the story ends with the news that the man did just as Jesus had instructed, going around telling everyone his story. In so doing, he sealed the healing begun that day, for himself and for his family and community as well.
Psalm 42:1 As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
Morning: Where might I have trouble being myself today? Where might I pressure another to think or feel like me?
Evening: Where did I lose myself today? What early signs did I miss?