bible blog 1030

This blog provides a meditation on the Revised Common Lcctionary daily readings along with a headline from world news

Three others arrested for Boston Bombing

arrested bomber with two of three friends arrested yesterday

arrested bomber (right)with two of three friends arrested yesterday

Luke 8:26-39

J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)

26-28 They sailed on to the country of the Gerasenes which is on the opposite side of the lake to Galilee. And as Jesus disembarked, a man from the town who was possessed by evil spirits met him. He had worn no clothes for a long time and did not live inside a house, but among the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he let out a howl and fell down in front of him, yelling, “What have you got to do with me, you Jesus, Son of the most high God? Please, please, don’t torment me.”

29 For Jesus was commanding the evil spirit to come out of the man. Again and again the evil spirit had taken control of him, and though he was bound with chains and fetters and closely watched, he would snap his bonds and go off into the desert with the devil at his heels.

30-37 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “Legion!” he replied. For many evil spirits had gone into him, and were now begging Jesus not to order them off to the bottomless pit. It happened that there was a large herd of pigs feeding on the hill-side, so they implored him to allow them to go into the pigs, and he let them go. And when the evil spirits came out of the man and went into the pigs, the whole herd rushed down the cliff into the lake and were drowned. When the swineherds saw what had happened, they took to their heels, pouring out the story to the people in the town and countryside. These people came out to see what had happened, and approached Jesus. They found the man, whom the evil spirits had left, sitting down at Jesus’ feet, properly clothed and quite sane. That frightened them. Those who had seen it told the others how the man with the evil spirits had been cured. And the whole crowd of people from the district surrounding the Gerasenes’ country begged Jesus to go away from them, for they were thoroughly frightened. Then he re-embarked on the boat and turned back.

38-39 The man who had the evil spirits kept begging to go with Jesus, but he sent him away with the words, “Go back home and tell them all what wonderful things God has done for you.” So the man went away and told the marvellous story of what Jesus had done for him, all over the town.

Evil spirits expelled from the man's mouth

Evil spirits expelled from the man’s mouth

Luke gets this stark tale from Mark, whose version is even more “primitive” than his. The key to the scene is the name the man gives himself, “Legion”, that is, a detachment of the Roman Army numbering 3000-6000 foot soldiers and 200 – 300 cavalry. Particular Legions would be assigned to particular territories of the Empire. It seems very unlikely that the name should be interpreted as simply referring to a large number, more likely that it refers to the destructive power of the Roman invaders. Gerasa was one of the Ten Towns established by a previous invader, the Greeks, and therefore viewed as “gentile” country by pious Jews. The story is originally about Jesus venturing into gentile territory infested with the evil spirits of pagan empires, which have found a home in the unfortunate man who lives amongst tombs and damages himself. In modern language this man has “internalized” the brutalities of invasion.

The original story probably found a dark humour in the expulsion by Jesus of the evil spirits into the pigs, which were of course an unclean, gentile, animal and perhaps in street speech, a name for Romans.

I think the original, political edge of this story survives in Mark’s version but not in Luke, whose view of the Roman Empire is more positive. Luke wants the reader to see the parallels with the immediately preceding story of the storm on the Lake and to interpret the man’s possession as an irruption of the same powers of chaos rebuked by Jesus on the boat. The calm which Jesus brings to the man is the same as the calm he creates on the Lake.

Luke emphasises by his choice of words that the healed man has become a disciple – he sits at Jesus’ feet –  and is therefore sharply distinguished from his superstitious countrymen who are afraid of Jesus’ challenge to the status quo. For their sake Jesus asks his new disciple to be a witness in his own city. gerasa_man_swine_utrecht_1430

I’ve suggested that Luke’s version is less raw than Mark’s, but the dream-story of the storm followed by the story of the demon-possessed man is a powerful and disturbing construct, hinting at the violent opposition of the powers of evil to God’s goodness in Jesus and their threat to the health of the human being. In both instances the authority of Jesus is decisive in creating a calm in which fearful people can continue as, or choose to become, his disciples.

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