Weekly Bible Reflection
Luke: Signs of the Kingdom
Third Sunday after Trinity
Text: Luke 8.26-39
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
How do you understand ‘salvation’?
Is it only about ‘saving souls’ or is it about the recovery of every aspect of our humanity?
A Window on the Text
This story of the demon-possessed man living among the graves on a hillside above the lake reads like classic folklore, with strange and powerful happenings taking place. The disciples have just experienced Jesus’ power over the wind and the waves, now it seems he has got the better of a crowd of demons – but in the process provoking a livestock stampede and frightening the local community.
It is hard to identify the exact locality of the region of this event. It was probably situated in pagan territory between the town of Tiberius and the area of the Decapolis, at the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, away from the Jewish communities around Capernaum. Roman occupying forces would sometimes build their garrison towns on old graveyards, and Jews considered such areas unclean. We are not told whether this man is a Jew or a pagan, but according to the standards of any kind of normal life, he is living in a shameful, lonely, oppressed state of body and mind. His disorder would have been described as demon-possession at the time, as it would still be today in some cultures or religions. We would tend to see it as a mental illness or disorder, possibly brought on by some incident of brutality involving the occupying Roman forces – hence the name of ‘Legion’ for the demons.
Ironically the man and his demons clearly recognise Jesus as the Son of the Most High God, and (with slight differences of emphasis from the Matthew and Mark versions of the story) relinquish their control of him when Jesus confronts them. And then, depending on your cultural understanding, unclean spirits are sent into unclean animals to be thrown into the Abyss – or perhaps the ensuing shock and surprise of the healed man and the onlookers is enough fuss and excitement to cause a major stampede of local livestock. Or perhaps Jesus did mean for the pigs to flee, in order to give the man a visual demonstration that whatever had ‘possessed’ him had now indeed gone for ever.
It appears strange to us that Jesus’ actions are not welcomed. Are people annoyed because something has happened that they do not understand, or because of the economic loss of a large herd of pigs (2000 in some accounts of the story)? Or are they afraid of what the Romans’ reaction might be to such an obvious challenge to their occupation of the land?
Responding as a community
- How do we minister to those with mental illnesses, epileptic seizures, depression or other psychiatric or psychological problems today? Is it possible to find the right balance between prayer and community support on the one hand and professional medical treatment on the other?
- This story has often been discussed without reference to the Roman occupation and its effect on the local community, whether Jewish or pagan. How do church people today cope with issues of political oppression and find ways to bring peace and justice to such situations? Are we willing to provide moral and financial support to those wrestling with such issues in other countries?
- Why do you think Jesus’ actions were not welcomed by the local people? How do you think they responded when the healed man went all over the town telling how much Jesus had done for him? What would be our reaction today?
- Spend a few moments in silence. Reflect on those places where persecution and injustice are common – both those in the news today and those that perhaps no-one is aware of.
- Light a candle each and pray for salvation from sin for all – the recovery of true and full humanity, whether social, personal, structural, sexual, spiritual or physical. You may wish to name individual people or places, or pray in silence for those on your heart.
- Finish with the Lord’s Prayer pausing for a moment at “Deliver us from evil” – the end of the prayer as Jesus himself gave it to the disciples.
- In first century Palestinian culture the power to use a name was the power to control. The demons want to control Jesus by using his name first, but he responds by commanding them to give up their name, Legion, to him.
- Various attempts have been made to identify the exact location of this story, without much success. Galilee was a mixed Jewish and pagan region, under Roman occupation. Gerasenes, Gadarenes, Gergesenes are all names of areas nearby the Lake of Galilee, also itself known as Gennesaret, but none of them was near enough to a steep bank or ravine leading directly to the Lake itself. The most likely site is that of modern Khersa, on the eastern shore of the lake.
- According to popular demonology of the time, unclean spirits wandered the earth seeking their abode in desert places, tombs, or in demented persons. In the sight of Palestinian Jews pigs were worthless animals that they were forbidden to eat. Their drowning becomes the means whereby unclean spirits cease to molest human beings.