1 Kings 19:1-15a; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39
A demoniac, a man who is possessed by a demon, lives naked among the tombs in the cemetery. The people are afraid of him. But he is also afraid of the people. For he has been subdued many times by the villagers and each time the possessed man becomes stronger until he can no longer be contained.
What seems clear in this story is that this man is not acting of his own accord, there are outside pressures that have made this man into what he is today. Few people today believe in demonic possession and they would tell us that this man has a mental illness. In my mind, this doesn’t matter too much. Either way, it is outside forces that have prevented him from being himself. The people around him, most likely unintentionally, have not helped the situation either. In their attempts to help, they seem to have only to torment this man more.
If Jesus came to Eagle Lake, Columbus, East Bernard, or Houston, I wonder if He would find people that have fled a “normal life” and found themselves secluded in the corners of society. Are there people we fear to walk past, areas of town we avoid going to because we fear what could happen? And have we considered what outside pressures have contributed to the isolation of these people? Mental illness, addiction, or even political and economic pressures. These outside pressures don’t only affect the marginalized people of our society they can adversely affect all of us.
Each of us, you, me, your neighbor next to you have external pressures affecting our behaviors. There are political pressures in which we demonized the other party or other people. We express hatred and animosity, toward others who are also affected by political, social, and economic pressures. We try to tighten the chains we place people in and at the same time we expect them to relax and have less fear of us. We demonize them without looking at how we may be contributing to their anguish.
We all have pressures put upon us whether its social pressure from our friends and the organizations we belong to or familial pressure from the people who love us the most. All of these pressures affect our attitudes. We have good days and bad, we hurt others unintentionally, and we blame the blameless.
Jesus came to the demoniac and freed him from his demons. The man was freed to go home, rejoin his family and community. The man was made whole again but there was no rejoicing. There were no celebrations that this lost man had been found. The community was still in fear. Yet the fear that they had for this man was now transferred to Jesus and they ask Jesus to leave. What were they afraid of? That he will heal others? Or maybe they were afraid that there was no longer anyone to blame for their unhappiness? The Demoniac was in many ways their scapegoat. And when the scapegoat leaves we no longer have an easy person to place our fears upon, and anger is placed elsewhere.
We see the freedom of the man. Instead of hiding in the cemetery, he goes through the city telling all about Jesus. This man doesn’t seem to hold a grudge about his mistreatment, he doesn’t blame the men who put him in chains, and he doesn't isolate himself from the pain he has experienced. Jesus healed this man spiritually. The past hurt, the mistreatment, the injuries caused by others are no longer of consequence. He is free to live his life in Christ.
Our Old Testament reading has a similar thread running through it. Elijah is afraid for his life. Jezebel, the queen, has killed all the other prophets in Judah. Elijah seeks isolation but instead, he finds an angel. Through this angel Elijah sets out on a quest to find God; to speak with God. And when he finds the Almighty, he tells God all that is happening. He tells of his loneliness. Of those who have been killed. He tells of the people who are after him.
In this case, God doesn’t give Elijah words of comfort. He doesn’t say he will protect him. God tells Elijah to return and complete the work God has given him to do; to anoint a new king, and to anoint a new prophet. It is through returning to his relationship with God that Elijah finds clarity in what he is to do. The work he was originally given hasn’t changed. Elijah is a prophet speaking the truth of God. What has changed is that through God Elijah find confidence and he is no longer afraid to fulfill his work. He is certain that God is with him in the work he does.
This is no different than what Christ does for us. We seek after the Lord and we find him. We experience spiritual wholeness and through Christ, we are freed from the outer pressures of the world to continue the Lord's work in our lives. We no longer need to fear others. We no longer need to demonize others; we no longer need scapegoats in which we place our pains on strangers. We are freed to place all of our pain on Christ who is willing to accept our suffering and give us new life.
Of course, this doesn’t mean we will not experience pain and suffering, but when the burden is being shared with Christ, no longer do the corners of our neighborhoods seem so scary. No longer are we so afraid of the stranger, people in need, or those who are lost. The freedom Christ gives us allows us to offer forgiveness, to apologize for our mistakes, to see the good in people where others cannot. When our burden is being shared with Christ we find the courage to walk with him where we could not go before.