This week, the lectionary gives us the Gospel of Luke's telling of the story of Jesus healing a man possessed by demons. Mark and Matthew include it, too, with their own take on the story.
If you asked me to tell this story in a contemporary setting, I'd be tempted to place it in a large urban centre. A person with extreme mental health issues who lives in a park, maybe, or on the street, homeless and with no money or food. But he doesn't ask for either, he probably talks to himself, or appears to, and grabs scraps when he can, avoided, as best they can, by everyone.
|Timothy Schmalz's bronze sculpture "Jesus the Homeless" outside Regis College,|
the Jesuit College at The University of Toronto.
Just as it was in the original story, he'd recognize Jesus for who he really is when it seems like the rest of us can't. It could be, I suppose, that he recognized Jesus because, when everyone else looks away, Jesus looks right at him. When everyone else is trying so hard not to see him, Jesus sees him for who he is, a person who needs help. And Jesus offers it. And that makes everyone else fearful.
Are they afraid of Jesus "power" or are they afraid that Jesus has shone a light on something they hoped they wouldn't have to see? Are they afraid that Jesus is setting an example others might follow? That's going to cost time and money. Maybe even mine.
I mean, theirs. Mine? Wait.
Let's go back to the beginning. Like I said, I'm tempted to make this character a street person in a city. But I live in a small town in rural Alberta. If I put the story in a city, I might as well put it two thousand years ago and halfway round the world. The stereotype of the person creates distance, too - you don't find "those people" outside the city, do you? - and if I can keep it at a distance, it can stay the tidy concept it is and not be the messy action it should be.
But that's just it. This person is anywhere. Jesus reaches out, asks his name and makes a connection. He, literally, names the demons that torment the man. He engages him and things get messy. The man is healed, restored to life and full of praise for God. He even asks to follow Jesus, to continue their relationship. But Jesus says no, go and build relationships with others by sharing your story.
Healed of an illness, exorcised of demons, saved from evil - whichever it is, the real miracle here is that Jesus bridges the distance between society and the people it has cast out because they're different. Not different in appearance or culture or religion, but different in how they "be."
Jesus calls us to engage everyone as best we can, where they are and how they are. It's no wonder we're fearful and want him to move on.