Sunday, June 19, 2022

Proper 7 C - June 19, 2022

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Josep Martinez-Cubero

Pentecost, Proper 7 - June 19, 2022

As usual with these crazy yet awesome Gospel stories, I have to acknowledge my 21-century sensibilities, so I can then get past them and search for what is also true and the Good News. But I’m not gonna lie, I read the story and the first thing that comes to my mind is: Oh my God, those poor pigs! Why did they have to die so the demoniac could be healed. And why is Jesus negotiating with demons anyway? What about the welfare of the pigherds who watched their livelihood disappearing over a cliff? These are valuable questions, and I would like to think that if the writer was writing today, some of these strange details would probably not be there or be handled differently. The problem is, though, that if we get stuck in what we find strange about the story, we miss how this is our story too. This is our story too because it speaks of a man of the city who had demons, had been naked for a long time and lived in the tombs. In other words, a person who has demons, whose current reality is completely exposed to all, and who is as good as dead for the people around them. And the people of the city have tried to keep this person in chains, to bring this person under control, but have not been successful. This person is a problem! When he sees Jesus, the demoniac throws himself on the ground as if begging for help, but instead howling in protest. "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?" It is a "leave me alone!" expression. Have you ever been met with a “leave me alone” that clearly sounds like a cry for help? Have you, yourself, tried to push someone away, when deep inside you are really hoping they won’t let go? Thank God for those people in my life who have refused to leave me alone in those times when I’ve tried to isolate myself! And the first words from Jesus at this encounter? A question, “What is your name?” This is our story too because the first step in getting rid of the demons that enslave us is to be able to name them. The man calls himself Legion, but that is not his true name. That is not who he really is. It is, rather, what has become of him- dispossessed of his humanity, an alien to the town. And why? Well, because there always has to be a scapegoat. There’s always the one to whom the group points the finger and says: “Oh, he is such a mess!” “She’s crazy” We don’t want her here.” They are nothing but trouble.” But it never fails! The person to whom we point the finger is holding a mirror in front of us, revealing what we are trying very hard not to see or know about ourselves. Jesus asks for a name, and by doing so, begins to bring this broken person back to their humanity- to true identity as a beloved child of God. What is your name? Who are you, really? Who are you beneath the labels and the diagnoses? Who are you beneath the fear and the shame? Jesus begins where we ourselves need to begin. With an honest questioning and naming of ourselves. What is your name? “Legion,” the man says, a multitude. The assault on the mind, soul, and body of this naked man of the city who lives in the tombs comes from many sources. This is our story too because what ails us as human beings is Legion. The demons that can haunt us are many- depression, anxiety, all sorts of addictions to alcohol, sex, food, shopping, dieting, exercise... Perhaps we have become slaves to our wealth, or our rightness, or our bitterness, or our dishonesty or our envy. We are all vulnerable to forces that want to keep us isolated, deprived of self-control, and driven toward self-destruction. We are all vulnerable to forces that conspire to keep us dead when God wants us alive; forces that seek to take away our true name, and to separate us from God and from each other. Jesus redirects the demons from the possessed man to the herd of swine that ran down to the lake and drowned. Luke is writing for a community that would have considered pigs unclean. However one may feel about that, the point is the demons are gone! And what happens when the demons of a scapegoat are gone, and the scapegoat has been restored to health? Well, those who were pointing the finger are going to have to change or their own demons are going to start showing up really fast! When the people of the city hear what has happened, they go to Jesus and find that the demon-possessed man is healed, and instead of expressing relief or gratitude or hospitality, they show fear, and beg Jesus to go away. So this is our story too because it illustrates an unpleasant truth about human relationships. It shows the human propensity to want to stick with the demons we know, rather than embrace the freedoms we don’t. It shows the human propensity to want some people to be “bad” so that we seem as good. It shows that the chains that bind so many in this world are the instruments of our own cruel making so we can cover up our own fears. That may be bad news, but it’s not the end of the story. The man who had been identified as naked, living in the tombs, out of control, without a home is, by the end of the story, clothed and in his right mind, no longer out of control, and now sitting at the feet of Jesus and being taught by him. He has been saved. Salvation, in other words, lies at the feet of Jesus, who alone has the power to cast out the demons that torment us. And what happens then? Oh, this is the best part!! Jesus commissions the healed man to stay in town and preach the Gospel to the very people who shunned and shackled him for years. HA! That’s right! We better pay attention because Jesus will choose the very people we consider the most unholy, the most repulsive, the most unworthy to teach us something about what it is to be a human being. Jesus comes to the possessed man seeing and knowing a truth about him that the man can neither see nor know for himself. How can he? He has been convinced that his name is Legion. But Legion is never our ultimate reality or true identity. The assurance of the Gospel is that Jesus comes to the Legion of our lives. Jesus comes before us with a truth that challenges us when we are not true to ourselves. Jesus comes before us as the image of who we truly are, revealing the original beauty of our creation. Jesus comes before us, yes, but we have to be able to name our demons, because Jesus ain’t codependent. We may know what it is like to be Legion. We can tell that story. For every story about Legion, though, there is a counter story that shows who we really are, our true self, beloved of God just as we are, and that’s the Good News! That’s the story Jesus wants us to tell. “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” ¡Que así sea en el nombre del Padre, del Hijo y del Espíritu Santo! ~Amen+

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