In nomine Jesu!
The story in today's Gospel is one of the most spectacular in the New Testament and through it Christ the optometrist inserts yet another Gospel lens to enable us to see our life and the world as Jesus sees them and Jesus sees them with clear Gospel vision. And so today again the formula for my speaking and your hearing is once again "Better A or B?"
In today's second reading for his letter to the Galatians, Paul sums up the view from our previously inserted lenses in three sentences which, if we choose to see the world through them expands our peripheral vision and cures fearful myopia. Paul writes, "As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."
Through the Gospel today β a story also recorded in Matthew and Mark's gospels β Jesus inserts another Gospel lens though this truly spectacular story. But you got to know its context.
This story operates on several levels. First of all, there's geography. While the precise location of the city isn't clear (Matthew calls it Gadara), Jesus is clearly operating in Gentile territory β for the first time in Luke. The presence of a herd of swine is evidence of that. Jesus and his disciples, for no apparent reason, have crossed the Sea of Galilee, and at the end of the story, they return home to Galilee. It's a day trip; almost as if the point of the journey was this encounter, this healing.
The second is that of the demoniac. His description, naked, living among the tombs, is a description of someone who has lost his identity. He has no home, no family, no place in society. He might as well be dead, in need of new life and resurrection, which may be why he's living among the tombs in the first place.
The third level is the demons and the herd of swine. I know most of us don't believe in demons, but in Jesus' day they were as common as Trumpistas are in our day and share with them these defining characteristics: Perpetual fear used to demonize and destroy the marginalized and vulnerable. When Jesus asks their name, they reply, "Legion, for we are
many." Fearful that Jesus might return them to the abyss, they ask him to cast them into a nearby herd of pigs, and promptly stampede into the sea to perish. The name Legion invokes the Roman army and while it's likely that we are meant to think that there are as many demons β 6000 β as soldiers in a legion (6000), it's also possible that the story is meant to convey a confrontation between Jesus and the Roman Empire. So while on one level Jesus is confronting the powers of the demonic, on another he is confronting oppressive imperial power.
The story ends weirdly, but completely consistent with its overall strangeness. The man is restored to his senses. Luke describes him as sitting at Jesus' feet, clothed and in his right mind. When the people see him healed, they are fearful and beg Jesus to leave. And they we have lens A, a view clouded by fear, even when something wonderful happens, and dismissing the one who brings good news as a danger to society.
There is a great deal that is intriguing in this story, but what I'm most struck is the way of the city's residents. They see the demoniac clothed, in his right mind, and sitting at Jesus' feet, and
they are afraid. Now many commentators will say that their fear was caused by the news of the pigs being drowned in the sea, or by the possibility that their economic livelihood was at stake if Jesus continued to perform such mighty acts among them. I'm not so sure.
Jesus is a foreigner here, an outsider. He comes for no apparent reason, or perhaps only for this reason, to encounter this man who was possessed by demons. Jesus heals him, restores him to his senses and to his community. In so doing Jesus does not threaten a way of life or of economic well-being, but rather is correcting the way the residents and we see the forces active in our lives and our society. Jesus sees everyone and everything through Gospel lenses and acts accordingly, as if death, powerlessness, paralysis and limited vision are already behind him. Jesus demonstrates resurrection power over the forces of evil and demonstrates that many of the assumptions the inhabitants held dear β the way they see things β can no longer be taken for granted because the kingdom of God has come among them. And if the demons obey him, what else might he be capable of? Better the demons, the Trumpistas and the residents' lens A or God and Jesus' lens B? That daily choice of which
lenses we are going to see the world and our society and our families and our own identity through is before us daily. Better A or B?
A few weeks ago over the Memorial Day weekend I was sitting with my now 6 1/2 year-old granddaughter Avery looking at a book of pictures of her when she was three years old. The picture we were looking at, of three-year-old Avery and me reading a book, sitting on a couch precisely mirrored what we were doing that day. I pointed to her three-year-old self in the picture and asked, "Who's that" and she said, "That's me!" Now Avery may live in Texas but she has a sometimes biting, sarcastic New York sense of humor. I pointed to myself in the picture and again asked, "Who's that?" To which Avery responded, "Grandpa, don't you even recognize your own self?!"
That's precisely what Jesus invites us to see when he fits us with Gospel lenses. He invites us to see our own selves, not as powerless, isolated, left-to-our-own-devises, left-to-create-our-own-worth creatures destined to live life as "an aimless mote, a deathward drift from futile birth"; but rather to recognize ourselves as God recognizes us, endowed with dignity, imbued
with worth and brimming with gifts to share unabashedly with all those around us; to recognize Christ even in our own self, and then to recognize Christ in all others because that through our Baptism once-for-all and through the Eucharistic bread and wine continually given to all, the only death we have to fear is behind us; and the risen Christ lives in and through us; and that we are fitted with Gospel lenses so that we can see all others with Gospel-corrected sight and act accordingly. That's who Philaphanhnsavun Jet is as of this morning. That's who his parents and sponsors and grandparents and we, Christ's Church, must consistently remind him to see and to be so that he can always recognize his own self and see Christ in his life and in the lives of others. Because he will daily be asked to choose, as we are daily asked to choose, Better A or better B?
Amandus J. Derr
Saint Peter's Church
in the City of New York
Isaiah 65:1-9; Psalm 22:19-28; Galatians 3:23-29; Saint Luke 8:26-39