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UK DEBATE ON BREXIT: “AS LONG AS WE DEBATE THIS IRRELEVANCE WE WON’T ASK WHY SOME PEOPLE ARE STARVING.”

LUKE 8

Demons

They sailed on and landed in the region of the Gerasenes, which is opposite the Galil. 27 As Yeshua stepped ashore, a man from the town who had demons came to meet him. For a long time he had not worn clothes; and he lived, not in a house, but in the burial caves. 28 Catching sight of Yeshua, he screamed, fell down in front of him and yelled, “Yeshua! Son of the most high God ! What do you want with me? I beg you, don’t torture me!” 29 For Yeshua had ordered the unclean spirit to come out of the man. It had often taken hold of him — he had been kept under guard, chained hand and foot, but had broken the bonds and been driven by the demon into the desert. 30 Yeshua asked him, “What is your name?” “Legion,” he said, because many demons had entered him.31 They begged Yeshua not to order them to go off into the Bottomless Pit.

32 Now there was a herd of many pigs, feeding on the hill; and the demons begged him to let them go into these. So he gave them permission. 33 The demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, whereupon the herd rushed down the hillside into the lake and were drowned.

34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the town and in the country; 35 and the people came out to see for themselves. They came to Yeshua and found the man out of whom the demons had gone, sitting — dressed and in his right mind — at the feet of Yeshua; and they were frightened. 36 Those who had seen it told how the formerly demonized man had been delivered.

37 Then all the people of the Gerasene district asked him to leave them, for they had been seized with great fear. So he boarded the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged that he might go with him; but Yeshua sent him away, saying, 39 “Go back to your home and tell how much God has done for you.” He went away proclaiming throughout the whole town how much Yeshua had done for him.demons1

Luke is following his source, the Gospel of Mark quite closely, just tidying up its rough Greek and altering a detail here and there. Matthew, who also follows Mark, prunes the account and leaves out all mention of the demons’ name, while doubling the number of possessed men. In Mark, it seems to me, the identity of the demons is crucial for two reasons:

  1. The exorcist gained power over demons when he could use their names;
  2. Mark makes the demons say, in effect, “I am the Roman Army, there are lots of us” thus identifying the violent demons as the spiritual force of the Roman oppressors. The man has taken into himself the violence of the invading troops. The black and subversive comedy that follows with the pigs, makes a link between unclean foreign invaders and unclean animals; if the demons do not go back where they came from, they go into something similarly unclean. The equation Romans = Pigs is not far away.

Luke’s version of the story doesn’t quite keep this meaning. The details are there, but Luke puts the name of the demons into reported speach, and indicates that the explanation of the name “Legion” is solely numerical. Since the most natural connotation of the name is the power of the Roman army, Luke can’t change it altogether, but he softens it, focusing on Jesus’ power to heal rather than the Romans’ power to destroy.

Mark’s account also emphasises the solitary death – loving, self-harming life of the possessed man -he lives in the tombs and cuts himself with stones- whereas Luke emphasises that he is driven into the desert, the place where the Satan tested Jesus.The climax of the story in all three gospels is the fear experienced by the people when they see a man seated quietly, properly dressed and sane. They have accepted an order of things in which a possessed man roamed about the fringes of their society: that was normality. Now here was a new a disturbing reality, a man who could heal and change: that was  abnormality, something fearful, so they asked him to leave the area. No wonder the healed man wants to leave with Jesus, who however commands him to be a witness amongs hisown people. Only Luke gives the detail that the man is seen “seated at Jesus’ feet”, that is, in the posture of a disciple. The reader is asked to see that Jesus’ healing ministry to the unclean and outcast has produced a new disciple.

demons 2Again Luke uses this story to point to Jesus’ engagement with the evil social forces that force people to the margins of society and abandon them there. In this case, Jesus is “on the other side of the lake” in territory which was probably regarded as semi-gentile, facing a gaggle of shrieking demons. His calm authority here mirrors his calming authority in the storm on the lake: he is calm and brings calm. Through this and may other srories, Luke was encouraging his audience of Christian assemblies, to comtinue Jesus ministry in their own time and place. He wanted them, like Jesus, to challenge the normalising of social exclusion by confronting the demonic powers which which it was complicit.

Today in the UK, the Government, by refusing to fund decent care for mental illness, is attempting to create a new class of excluded people who along with the feckless poor do not deserve help. By this refusal, the Government itself becomes like the destructive legions in the story, which deserve to be hunted into extinction by the demons they have created.

 

 

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