Thursday, June 20, 2019

Luke 8:26-39

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, most recently June 23, 2019

Summary:  Just because someone has broken free of their chains, does not mean they are free of their demons.  This is story about Jesus freeing an outcast of their demons and restoring them to life.  It takes identifying the problem, the prayerful word of God, a person who can integrate the healed back into society and frankly, an economic cost to the whole.  As I read this story this year, I think about the great challenge it is to heal and restore people.  It is not impossible, but it is a greater work than I first thought.

Key Words:
εδεσμευετο αλεσεσιν (from δεσμευω αλυσις, meaning "bound in chains", 8:29)  What is interesting is that even though the man can break free of his chains, he is not free.  The Bible presents a complex relationship between chains and imprisonment and freedom.  At points God comes to set the prisoner free.  As Jesus quotes from Isaiah:  "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."  (Luke 4:18-19)  On the other hand, Paul will write numerous points about his work in chains (Ephesians 6:20, Acts 28:20; Philippians 1:14).  This does not stop the message, but the message goes forth.  As Paul most pointed says in 2 Timothy 2:9 "...for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained."  External chains do not always reveal the inner and more enduring chains.  External freedom may not be true freedom.  To put it another way, just because someone has broken free of their chains, does not mean they are free of their demons.

ερημος (pronounced "heramos," meaning wilderness or desert; 8:29)  This word comes into English as "hermit."  The desert is a spiritual place in the Bible, a place where demons do dwell, but God is also present (think temptation story with both the devil and angels present).

ονομα (meaning "name", 8:30)  In order for Jesus to cast out the demon, the name must be revealed.  This is true in our lives as well.  A Jesuit priest offered this insight to me 20 years ago regarding this passage. As I grow older, what strikes me is that the demon's name must come from the man's mouth.  Naming the demon for another (you are an addict; he is a racist) does not empower change.  Saying "I am an addict" or "I am a racist" is the gateway to a new path.

λεγιων (pronounced "legion", 8:30)  This could simply refer to the fact that there are many demons...or could be an illusion to a Roman military unit; a hostile, non-kosher, occupying force!  Here is my take:  In order to exorcise a demon, you have to know its name!  We must name the problems in this world to solve them!

αβυσσος (pronounced, "abyssos", 8:31)  The word abyss is the place of the dead in Scripture; it also seems to refer to the primordial chaos waters.
Romans 10:7 "or 'Who will descend into the abyss?'" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).
Genesis 1:2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
Sadly, this is the only place in Luke's Gospel where the word abyss is found!  I was wanting some more fun!

βοσκοντες (meaning "tend", 8:34)  A nice example of a substantive participle...but I digress.  The point here is that the emancipation of the demon possessed man (the outcast in society) cost the society something, even with Jesus present.  What are we willing to give up to help the outcasts?  I would love to say that it is not a zero sum game (because it isn't), but giving life to the outcasts in society is not without costs.

εφοβηθησαν (verb from "φοβος", pronounced "phobos" meaning "fear", 8:35).  The reaction to the healing of the person is fear.  How often might we react in fear to God's emancipating work?  How can this be overcome?  Fortunately the fear is not of the man, but of Jesus.  How might the healing work of God have a cost for the ones doing the healing and freeing work?

θεος ("theos", meaning God 8:38).  This is a subtle reminder that Jesus = God.  Jesus tells him to tell what God has done; he tells what Jesus has done. 

κηρύσσων (pronounced, "kerusso" akin to kerygma, meaning "proclaiming", 8:39) Jesus officially commissions the disciples to "proclaim" in 9:1; here is his first commissioning, however.  The disciples have lots of training before they are sent out; in this case, this person is sent out to declare the Word of the Lord in his life.  I wonder if we spend so much time preparing people for grand commissionings (seminary) that we overlook the very basic task of commissioning people in our midst to talk about God's work in their lives. 

A little grammar bonus:
τι εμοι και σοι ("what to you and to me", 8:28)  The Greek here seems pretty mild "What is to you and to me?"  It really means "What is your problem with me?"  It is used often to set up an adversarial conversation between two parties.  Interestingly, this will be how Jesus approaches his mother at Cana (in John 2)

Side note:  If you are curious about how Luke and Mark are different in this story:  Mark uses imperfect tenses for verbs, highlighting the on-going battle.  Luke uses aorist.