Thursday, June 27, 2013
A demon is overcome by holiness and mercy...
The Gospels are studies in contrast – contrasts between good and evil, light and dark, expectation and surprise, sin and grace. Today is no different. Jesus meets a man with demons. You and I would try to avoid such an encounter but not Jesus. He comes to confront the demon, demonstrate His power over them, and to own the demon so that the man may be free. Jesus does not display the raw and brutal power of evil. Instead He shows forth the power of holiness over evil and the result is nothing short of amazing.
The demoniac is the epitome of unclean. He is naked, with no cover for his body, no modesty, no shame. But he is also naked in the sense that everyone knows the evil that lives in him. There is no hiding or escaping it. He lives in the unclean place of death, a cemetery. He wears the death of evil and He lives among death and evil.
The demon is immediately fearful of Jesus. He falls down before Jesus. He calls Jesus who He is – Son of the Most High God. The demon begs for mercy from Jesus. Imagine that. "Do not torment me," he cries. Evil cannot be overcome by evil. Jesus is all that is clean, pure, and holy and it is this the demon fears most of all.
The demon fears Jesus and the abyss, the emptiness of eternal death. So the demon chooses unclean pigs. They rush to enter the unclean animals forbidden to the Jews and immediately the pigs rush off a cliff are drowned in a lake. Jesus confronts the demons with no power except His holiness and His mercy. There is nothing brutal in Jesus. He allows the demons to enter the herd of pigs. Even the unclean pigs cannot stand the unclean and evil spirits that had entered them and they rush to their own death.
Dear friends, this is no yesterday story, it is about us. We live in an unclean world. Just as the demon cast off all modesty and shame, so do we live in a world without shame. Just as the demon lived in a cemetery, comfortable with death, so do we live in a world too friendly with death. We no longer have funerals; we celebrate lives. We dress up the dead to look nice and we describe death as a natural end to life. Of course we hate it when it comes too early or in pain but we have grown friendly with death so that we think it kind when it comes at the end of a long life, well lived by earthly standards. We have made peace with our enemy – awkward peace but still peace.
Jesus has every right to condemn our world for its peace with death, its comfort with evil, and its lack of shame. Sometimes you and I lament the holiness and mercy seem ill equipped to quickly dispatch evil and wrong. We are severely tempted to be as brutal as the evil we face, to treat evil as evil treats us. But Jesus will not. He is of all things the God of holiness and mercy – He does not tolerate evil or accept sin and make peace with death. Neither does He lash out with the power of anger. No, Jesus wins with mercy and a pure heart.
The demoniac is rendered clean and takes his place at the side of Jesus. As shocking as this is, what is even more shocking is that the people were just as fearful of evil overcome as they were accustomed to evil itself. Where there should have been joy and thanksgiving, there was fear. In their fear, they did not want Jesus around them anymore. They asked Him to leave and go away.
But not the man whose life Jesus has delivered. He was not afraid. For once in His life he was at peace. He refused to leave Jesus because Jesus was His Savior. The demoniac wants to follow Jesus but Jesus directs him elsewhere. He has a new calling. His job is to declare what God had done for him. And that is exactly what He did, proclaiming through out the city how much Jesus had done for him.
You and I were once claimed by evil, as we say at the beginning of the baptismal rite. God has not made peace with our demons. He has cast them, forgiven our sins, and made us whole and clean. The great temptation is always to make peace with evil or diminish what is wrong as if it is livable. That is our temptation but that is not our calling. We are in Christ new creation. We have been brought forth in mercy to wear Christ’s holiness.
We have been set apart to declare what God has done. We have no story apart from the story of what God has done for us. We have no life but the life that was given us in baptism. We have no future except the future prepared for us in Christ. Yet we find ourselves afraid – like the people who watched how Jesus has overcome evil but whose fears told Jesus to leave them alone. We cannot afford to live by fear.
God has called us to live by faith. That is exactly what we fear. We find it easier to make peace with evil than to trust in the Lord who has triumphed over evil. Our calling is to faith... to receive what He bestows with a grateful heart, and live the new life that is our calling by baptism. This is what the Spirit is given to do – to lead us to this faith, to impart this faith, and to guide our walk in faith, declaring the wonderful deeds of Him who has called us from darkness into His marvelous light and to show forth the Kingdom of God not by might but by mercy. Christ has done no less for us. Can we do any less for him than did this demon possessed man?!