We don’t often talk about demons. It used to be thought that there were two world, there was the earthly realm and the spirit realm. It was almost as if we were in a fish tank but surrounding us was a mysterious, sometime frightening unknown where God and the angels dwelled as well as the devil and demons. When we die, we leave our tank and enter the spirit realm but every so often, someone or some thing would dive into our tank to intervene in the affairs of humans. We now live in an age of science and so we know that as we move farther and farther from our realm, we find, space – other planets, stars, galaxies, forever and ever.
I don’t think that’s the only reason we shy away from talk of demons. I think it might also be that to talk of demons, we’re acknowledging the presence of profound evil in our world – the serpent in Eden, the rot at the bottom of the potato bin. Personally, I’d rather think that this world, God’s creation, is good and that there aren’t these kinds of forces creating havoc.
In this story though, we have someone described as having demons, he won’t wear cloths and is living among the tombs of a graveyard. In reality we don’t know much about this person. Maybe he has some kind of medical or mental illness. Before modern medicine, how do you suppose people with epilepsy or schizophrenia would have been seen. People would have been afraid, people would have tried to explain what was happening without the benefit of science. People would have been happy to have him living in a graveyard because anyone with any common sense would have avoided him.
I’m not sure this story is about the possessed man though. Instead, I think this is a story about Jesus and his authority. He’s not only in charge here in this realm, but in the spirit ream as well. He has the authority to banish, not only one demon, but a whole legion of them.
It’s a bit strange though, isn’t it? Why does Luke have Jesus negotiating with the Demons? Why not just banish them? Luke needed to show that these evil powers recognized Jesus and were afraid of him. They had to have this conversation where the demons recognize that Jesus is the son of God, even when so many people didn’t. So before you get too concerned about the plight of the poor pig farmer who’s now lost his livelihood, no worries – the swine are a plot device to illustrate Jesus power.
But still, what is a demon? Do you believe that there are otherworldly creatures, doing evil in the world and leading otherwise good people astray?
I have mixed feelings about this. One the one hand, I think that demons and the devil have been used far too often as an excuse for the sometimes evil behaviour of humans. I hope I never say, “the devil made me do it.” I’d rather take responsibility for my actions because only when we take responsibility can we actually change our lives for the better.
Then again, if we think of demons as a metaphoric way of describing our faults and weaknesses, it could help us hold a more optimistic view of humanity. To say someone has demons is to say that this is not their default way. People are indeed good but we become infected with demons – demons of greed, addictions, hubris or hate.
I really don’t think that people are naturally evil; I don’t believe in some kind of inborn corruption that we’re all born with. That said, there obviously is evil in the world and otherwise good people are often right at the centre.
Last Sunday, I went home after church and turned on the news. I was horrified to see that once again, there was a mass shooting in the states. This time, 49 of our siblings murdered in a gay night club. Whether we believe demons are metaphoric or actual beings playing havoc, the outcome is the same, too many dead, too many injured, and a world, once again shocked at the brutality humans are capable of.
It wasn’t that one demon walked into that bar that night, but like our reading today, it was very much a legion. And like in that reading, it’s important that we name these demons, because without knowing, without acknowledging what they are, we can’t banish them. This individual was carrying with him demons called hatred and prejudice. It seems that he may have also been possessed by demons that go by the name of alienation and self loathing. These demons led him to that club last Saturday and helped him pull that trigger again, and again, and again.
The world was and still is rightly shocked but I know that for some, there was solace. This was a gunman who was one of them, someone unlike us and therefore, we’re safe from responsibility, there is neither blood nor powder burns on our hands. These are demons that we are immune to.
But do you think that it might go farther than that? Do you think that there just might be demons that infest an entire culture? What about the demon that names itself racism? It’s alive and well around the world and even here in Saskatchewan. Young people are taught right away that they’re of less value because of the colour of their skin, where they’re born, or which religion they follow. Is this something that this shooter might have experienced? Could this have been one of the societal demons that fed his own personal ones? Shouldn’t all people who’ve taken part in or allowed racism to exist inspect their own hands for powder burns?
And what about heterosexism? There are still too many that feel that there is only one correct way to live and love. Churches have been a huge part of this and still are. This is a demon that tries to convince us that anyone who fails to fit into narrowly defined metric of man and woman is less valuable, less deserving of compassion, less human than the rest of us. Doesn’t this demon add many more hands that are going to have to scrub hard to wash off the blood?
And what a demon that often goes by the name, “the second amendment.” This one is related to others called fear and ideology. In the U.S. and even in Canada there are those who worship guns with a vigour that outdoes many expressions of Christian faith. This is a demon that has an insatiable appetite for blood and death, and like the demons from our reading, can be found amongst the headstones marking the countless lives of people gunned down. This is a demon that purchases politicians and causes some of the most intelligent and otherwise good people to abandon rational thought and Christian values. Maybe we should add a few more fingers on that trigger that pulled again and again.
When we look at the number of demons in our world and the level of destruction that they inspire, it’s sometimes easy to lose hope. Sometimes when I hear stories like this and indeed this week, I sometimes wonder why I do this. In the face of such incredible evil, what hope do I have, do we as a church have, of making a difference. But of course, if we give up, the demons called apathy and cynicism take over.
Then I read passages like this from Luke and it reminds us that Jesus has the authority. If we will just let Jesus exercise this authority, he can exorcise these demons. We can learn from him that all people are our neighbours and that they are all loved by God and deserve our love as well.
If we trust in the Prince of Peace and recognize his authority, we can learn that the only protection that will keep us safe from our enemies is to love them into no longer being our enemies. No gun, no matter what size or firing speed can do this.
If we trust in the authority of God’s voice of ever widening love we will accept that all people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender expression, economic status, race, in other words ALL people are our kin. We will accept that we are all connected. We will realize the truth in the line from the Koran spoken at Thursday’s vigil that when one innocent person is killed, and entire nation is killed.
Jesus has the authority to banish all the world’s demons but he’s not going to do it without our permission. We have to want to get rid of hatred and fear.
There’s also another important part of this reading – he gave his authority to cast out demons to his followers and sent them into the world to carry out this work. In other words, it’s up to us. It’s up to us to banish hate wherever we find it. Exorcize division and erase the lines that divide us and them. Send fear into the graveyard where it belongs. In all that you do, do it with God’s love – that’s what Jesus used and it’s the only hope we have. God’s love is the only way to healing and peace. Fortunately, we have an unlimited supply of God’s love at our disposal, we just have to choose to use it.