Scripture for this Sunday: 1 Kings 19.1-15a (Elijah and the still, small voice of God in sheer silence); Psalm 42; Galatians 3.23-29 (we are all one in Christ); Luke 8.26-39 (Jesus heals a demon-possessed man in Gentile territory, and the demons are sent into pigs who drown).
It would take an awful lot of pigs to drown all the demons that possess our world. It would have serious repercussions on the pork market!
At first sight, Jesus and the possessed man is a simple tale of healing and compassion. But there are odd details that jar – and they tell their own story. The presence of pigs tells us that Jesus is in Gentile territory – not a good place for a Jewish Messiah. The response of the neighbours to the healing is less than enthusiastic: one cured man is apparently not worth a herd of drowned pigs, so they ask Jesus to go away before he inflicts further agricultural destruction on them. And Jesus, unusually, declines an offer from a follower, and instead sends the man to be a witness to his own people – the first apostle.
Luke’s readers would have seen symbolism in all of this. The man represents Israel; his name, Legion, shows him to be possessed by Rome, itself a representation for domination by earthly and material forces. Jesus offers healing, but he is too challenging and not what they want, but instead of asking him to leave, he is put on a cross.
We may not have pigs to drown, but we do have our own demons that need to be put away for disposal. The worst is anger, fuelled by fear (principally of what is different from us), which is manifest in violence and a search for scapegoats.
In truth, much of the anger is rooted in attempts to satisfy spiritual needs with material solutions.
Fear of what is different has plagued humans for countless generations. Christians are supposed to transcend such impulses, as the Apostle Paul advised the Galatians: “All of you are one in Christ Jesus,” echoed in words from the maiden speech of an MP from Yorkshire: “While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again as I travel around … is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”
We find ourselves, like Elijah, waiting for God to speak in powerful utterances of wind, earthquake and fire, yet the still, small voice is to be heard in sheer silence, asking us (like Elijah), “What are you doing here?”
A good answer would be: trying to dispel demons and regain our identity as children of God and the body of Christ.