theunfamiliarname

Homily for Ordinary Sunday 12C

In Uncategorized on June 20, 2010 at 11:15 am

In our Gospel this morning, there’s a lot going on.

A man, long suffering mental torment and dementia,
confronts and recognises Jesus.
He is naked, as a prisoner in the ancient world might have been.
He lives among the tombs, ritually unclean by Jewish Law.
His hometown is among the Gentile region of Gerasa,
but he is totally exiled from anything like a community.
And he tells Jesus his name is “Legion”.

While the Good News Bible’s use of “Mob” gets some of the idea across,
for someone living in a corner of the Roman Empire,
“Legion” takes on much more significance than merely “many”.
There might be around 6000 troops in a Roman Legion.
They were the symbol and the sharp-end of Roman oppression and power.
And the region Jesus enters
just happens to be the heart of Roman military control for Galilee.

Jesus’ Kingdom does not with arms confront the soldiers of Rome,
but in this encounter it challenges everything that is oppressive and evil,
that dehumanises and debases.
We have such forces at work in our world, whether or not we call them demonic.
But that which dismisses human worth and wholeness,
which objectifies and commodifies, is a long way from being godly.

The herd of pigs that feed on the hillside are a symbol of occupation,
of pagan religion and Roman rule.
To the Jewish inhabitants they are an affront,
and a reminder that things are not as they should be.
More than that, the pigs may well be the literal Roman Legion’s food.

Into this world comes Jesus, he acts and speaks with power.
He frees a man from his demons and sends a Legion
and the piggy symbol of occupation into watery oblivion.
Whatever we might think in our scientific and sophisticated age,
the people of the First Century lived in world populated by demons.
Jesus’ actions are clearly understood by and effective to those who experienced them.

What I’d like to draw your attention to is the movement within the narrative:
from being demented to being in one’s right mind;
from nakedness to being reclothed;
from being once chained and wild, now placid and free;
from the cemetery, the world of the dead, to the land of the living;
from being without a house, outside a community, to being returned to his city;
and interestingly, from this man being driven out, to Jesus himself being sent away.

In a number of those instances,
Jesus’ life and ministry powerfully embrace that
which so afflicts the man-formerly-known-as-Legion.
That is ultimately the message of the Cross,
Jesus’ claiming and redeeming all that is unlovely and ungodly,
turning the tables on evil and wrong-doing, by taking it to himself.

Here, that reversal is seen most clearly
when the people of Gerasa ask Jesus to leave them.
For them, a fear of the demonic is replaced with a fear of God at work.
Do we fear the possibility of God at work?
We return to a consistent gospel healing theme:
are we ready for life to be different?
For old patterns and certainties, however harmful, to be cast aside
and the power and renewal of God to reshape our reality?

And of course, those pigs.
That industry, tangled with the tramp of Roman soldiers.
Jesus is not welcome when an economy’s at stake,
complicit – as it often is – with unintended evil.

The man restored to his right mind sits at Jesus feet.
He becomes a disciple.
He asks to go with Jesus.
And Jesus says no.

For the fullness of his healing is to return to his community,
to be restored to his family and neighbours,
and to there declare that God is at work;
that even those beyond the pale, seemingly inhuman and uncontrollable,
can find deliverance and redemption.

What kind of world would it be where we actually believed that?

Jesus says to him, “return to your home,
and declare how much God has done for you”.
The most important mission field for you
is among your own people.

The temptation to exotic ministry must not distract us
from the critical opportunity to proclaim the Kingdom
where we know, and where we are known.
To declare what God has done for us.
We are called to bear witness to our culture,
to confront that which is ungodly in our society,
to restore relationship and build community.

May our lives this week be our Amen, “so be it”.

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