As I blocked the action in this our third story of healing in as many weeks it was as in the story of the widow’s son two weeks ago, the stillness of Jesus that captured me.
I cannot say enough about the strong stillness
I experience in this man as we enter the text.
Jesus woken from an exhausted sleep in a tilting boat,
woken into spume and sharp winds,
the terrified whimpers of seasoned sailors
and the harsh hollers of others.
Woken to say the words, “be still”.
It is that man who steps onto the long rock beach,
steps out alone while his companions secure the boat,
steps out to meet in that deserted place a loud, flailing anguished body,
a naked man,
limbs jerking in repetitious sequence,
moving with no purpose other than movement itself,
voice flailing too,
singing, whispering, gurgling, shouting,
a body thrown down by itself on the ground at Jesus’ feet,
bent to him like a disciple,
one free act in days of enslavement by all that possessed him.
Can you see them, those two,
the still man on the beach
and the tormented body at his feet.
And can you hear it,
out of that once free body the loud ugly cry,
“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son, of the Most High God?
I beg you, don’t trouble me”.
We often try to figure out as the words are said
who is speaking, the man or the demons,
the possessed or the possessors,
the occupied or the occupiers.
Perhaps the confusion over who is speaking is holds the heart of this text’s meaning.
How do we know ourselves from what possesses us?
How do we know our true being from that which is alien and occupying?
How do we find the beloved self of us within the unloving demands of the culture in which we exist?
The other day I found tied round two trees in my yard, some rope.
Circled three times on itself it was growing into the trunk,
choking the life from the tree,
black already starting to show near the cords.
It had been tied there for a lovely purpose – to suspend a hammock.
But left over the years unused it was sinking right into the life of the tree, killing it.
It was like this man and his demons.
This man lives on the edge of death, naked, homeless, nameless.
He is isolated, in relationship only with his torturers.
Bound tightly round him they have sunk into his being,
choking the life from the beloved self of him.
Mute – this man is; his only voice that of those who live inside him.
What is your name Jesus asks.?
And the response is Legion.
What a terrible hectic name for a man to bear.
If a meeting was to convene in a room in the Gentile, formerly Greek city of Gerasa;
if a white board was to be pulled out from the corner
and if someone were to begin to instruct the townspeople on the symbolism of this scene it might look something like this.
Legion, the black marker would write.
Legion, slash, a unit of Roman soldiers, 6000 Roman solidiers.
Rome, slash, the occupiers of this town.
we mustn’t forget those bristly creatures that will soon appear racing through the story,
SWINE slash, the symbol of pagan practice,
SWINE – the symbol of Roman might, the white sow that gave birth to a litter of thirty.
Those gathered are familiar with the symbols of oppression writ largeas we might be with the symbols of poverty or violence, discrimination or war.
But after a break for refreshments, the meeting reconvenes.
The scribe writes again as we nurse our coffee or the last crumbs of lemon loaf. And this time we recognize the codes too.
We might write these in block letters on our white board with the heady black marker.And after each of these works, we might write – slash- not us.
The man outside the town represents everything that we identify as not us.
We have become familiar with the legion of those things that assault him but only because we have watched him roam the unclean places outside the town.
We may even have taken him food or drink but he has ranged out there carrying away from the town the whiff of fear deep inside us that we might in some way be him, or that he might in some way be us.
As I block the action in the text here is what strikes me.
On a deserted beach out past the tombs,
A boat rides up on the shore
Jesus steps out
A man throws himself down on the ground
Jesus speaks into the chaos of fractured identity
An ordinary question. What is your name?
And the answer is Legion.
In the quiet of the morning a swineherd coming over the hill sees his employer’s fortune,
hundreds of pigs sail over a cliff into the abyss.
It looks at first glance as though they are flying.
He runs back to town and tells the residents who, leaving their seminar on symbols and afflictions, head out to the hills.
There they see
squatting on the beach the demoniac,
the one who is not them,
dressed in an odd assortment of clothes provided by the men in the boat.
They see there another,
who we know is Jesus,
squatting too in serious conversation.
And they are afraid.
They are afraid because the man possessed is now free,
Because a healer is on the loose and everything can change they are terrified.
With one great flowing motion they move down the hill,
all of them
and its unanimous
– they all want Jesus to leave.
What has he done?
He has healed the man that lived outside their town.
The one who they told stories about to make their children behave,
the one their men went out to bind when they wanted to know they were still strong,
the one the women made food for when they wanted to know they were still kind.
And now that one is no longer not them.
He is one of them.
The healing that is possible only when the need is acknowledged has entered the text of their lives.
The still man on the shore turns to leave at their request but it is too late.
With a single healing on a deserted beach
he has set free all the questions they had lashed to the demoniac
and kept bound outside the town?
This great quiet healing has opened up the bag of questions in their community.
All the things they feared about themselves that they had lashed to that man possessed will now live in a house in their town.
Pigs have flown and healing lives just down the street.
Once you’ve blocked the scene in the text you look at the movement and ask yourself what you see.
And then you ask what you believe?
I see Jesus cross over a boundary, heal one man and then leave.
I see him do one this one thing.
I see him plant that man
like one of those slow release capsules in his own home place,
a follower of Jesus who never leaves town.
I believe that that man will indeed declare with his life how much God has done for him
and I believe that slowly but surely his neighbours will find their way to his door,
bringing a cake
or the loan of a lawnmower,
retrieving a ball thrown over his fence.
One by one they will find an excuse to tell him their secrets,
the things that possess them
the things that disorder their lives,
the things that have grown round the trunk of their lives
and strangled their true name.
He has been there
and so have we and
Healing has come to town.
This text sets us free to ask our own questions because it is a story in which fear and possession don’t ultimately win. So,
What do we have to keep secret in order to be here?
What needs to be tied up in a place outside?
Who is missing from our gathering?
Who is outside the town?
What of our past have we hidden in someone else’s backyard.
What will we say if Jesus digs it up and heals us.
We rest in an in between place here in the chapel,
swung like a hammock between old and new.
It is an opportune place to hear the questions
To set them swinging
To feel them in our bones.
What is your name we are asked,
as we live here, unclothed by a building.
What is our true name.
As we live parts of our life in the chapel and parts in the Anglican church and parts in the space that is not quite yet..
We live in a place of possibility where our anxieties may be nudged close enough to the surface to be met by God’s deep loving question.
It’s hard to keep them outside the doors because right now the doors are open.
It is a great place in which to be set free.
Don’t be afraid.
The impossible is possible.
Pigs have flown and a healer is here in town.
Thanks be to God.