Jesus heals a gentile, YHWH continues to nurture a people who have rebelled against the law, and the Apostle Paul asserts the unity of all the baptized. In these stories and tellings, we hear of unfathomable compassion.
Driving demons out may seem like a move to abolish qualities that distinguish one person from the next, one people from another. But it is not about equity in the sense of all of us being the same––except in the eyes of God’s compassion. The tormented man lives a life of fear, asking why the holy one would even notice him. This is one way to define utter desolation: when a person believes her life is worth nothing, not sacred. Jesus’ healing is about shalom.
The irony for us reading this story is that the demoniac had what is advertised as desirable in our culture: personal power, supreme autonomy, and freedom from the constraints of a community. In the person of the demoniac, the gospel condemns our ideal of individual self-sufficiency as being literally hellish.
The good news is that Jesus intrudes on this demonic isolation! Jesus comes ashore in gentile territory (doesn't he know he is only supposed to be the Jewish Messiah?) and immediately contests the power of evil in this man's life. The tormented man wails, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” This amounts to “Why don't you mind your own business?”
Jesus is minding his own business! God is not concerned with the barriers and boundaries we erect to keep him at bay. “The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it” (Psalm 24:1). God keeps penetrating the political, ideological and material defenses we pile up to shield ourselves from God's healing love. In Luke's gospel, and in the ongoing reality of the church, God in Christ refuses to let the usurping powers cling to their prey.
Through the coming of Jesus, Son of the Most High God, the false kingdom of darkness is overthrown by God's new reality. That's what Luke shows us as he repeatedly illustrates Christ's authority to vanquish evil:
§ The demon-ridden man falls at the feet of Jesus in supplication.
§ The agents of evil submit to Jesus' command to reveal their name.
§ Jesus controls the ultimate fate of the afflicting powers, permitting them to pass into the herd of swine.
Not only is there power to drive out evil, but also there is power here to transform human existence. And Luke is not just telling us about what happened to the demoniac. He is painting the picture of what it means for everyone who enters God's reign by encountering Christ. We are not freed from the torment of evil to continue along a path of self-determination. We are transformed into something new—fit subjects of a new realm. – Ben Sharpe
This section of Isaiah (chapters 55–66) is most likely from the time after the exile from Babylon had begun, but prior to reforms of rebuilding the nations by Ezra and Nehemiah. Although God had sought to be present with the people, their rebellion led them to idolatrous worship. Even with subsequent warnings that they would pay for their breaking the Law, they continued in offering sacrifices to pagan gods. Even so, Isaiah spoke to the faithfulness of God preserving a faithful remnant, just as the vine-grower preserves the best-producing vines. From such would come heirs to unite the lands and provide prosperity. – Sara Webb Phillips
In the Galatians passage, Paul says that all are one in Christ Jesus. What exactly is oneness here? What are some ways that we misunderstand this oneness? Would our assumptions change if we were in a position of powerlessness or privilege, center or margin? – Jon M. Keune
Jon M. Keune is assistant professor of South Asian Religions, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan.
Sara Webb Phillips is a United Methodist minister serving North Springs UMC in Sandy Springs, Georgia.
Ben Sharpe currently serves the Christ Church, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in the Missionary District of the Anglican Church of Rwanda.
Homily Service 40, no. 7 (2007): 44-58.