Today is an anniversary of sorts for me. It was three years ago today that I gave one of my kidneys to a stranger at San Antonio Transplant Center. However, if a notification on my phone didn’t remind me, I wonder would I always remember the exact date, time, and place, or only remember that it was sometime in late June. And, that made me wonder if the man referred to as “Legion” in Luke’s Gospel took note of his anniversary of when Jesus, Son of the High God, exorcised the many demons from him. We don’t know. We do know however, that he didn’t have an electronic devise to notify him of a memory he shared on Facebook a year ago. But, did he remember? I’m sure he must have because the story ends that he went away proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
And, what about all the other characters in the story – Jesus, the disciples who arrived with Jesus, the demons, the swineherds, the people who lived in the city and country, and, of course, the poor swine. Did these events become a story that was told annually?
So let’s look at the characters. The disciples – I would imagine their heads are already spinning, because in the previous verses, we read that the disciples wake up Jesus in a panic because a storm has hit the lake and they are terrified. He calms the storm, and the disciples are asking ‘Who is this man?’ Unwittingly, it is the processed man, Legion, who will give them their answer when Jesus encounters him and the man shouts, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God.” Luke doesn’t tell us how Legion recognized him.
The demons – You know, it wasn’t until the fourth or fifth reading of this passage that it struck me that Jesus was so filled with love and compassion that when the demons begged not to be sent back into the abyss, Jesus looked for another way. Even the demons were worthy of his compassion. What does that say about our worthiness?
The swineherds. What a day that must have been for them. Not only do they lose their jobs, they have to tell the community that its source of food and income just went over the steep cliff possessed by demons. Imagine telling that one to your boss. I have no doubt that they told that story repeatedly. Enough times that the event may have become an anniversary for them as well. Perhaps they, too, like Legion became disciples to the Gentiles, because their lives were also forever changed. They witnessed the healing work of Jesus, son of the Most High God.
The people of the city and country – when they see the man who has been possessed sitting at the feet of Jesus clothed and in his right mind, they are afraid. And, rightly so. Here were people who had been caring for him in the only way they knew how. They kept him under guard, bound with chains and shackles. And, no matter how many times, the demons caused him to break away and run into the wild, the community would bring him back, cloth him, feed him, and prepare to repeat the process. They could have just left him in the wilds to fend for himself, but they didn’t. So, of course they were scared, because their lives were changed. And, change is scary. Most of us like things to be the way they have always been – for better or for worse. Think about the hard fought battles for civil rights – for African-Americans, Mexicans, Women, the LGBTQ community. We like our stability and comfort. Change upsets the routine and reassurance that when I go about my business, people will be the same, the same restaurant will be open for lunch, the same employees will come to work, the same church doors will be open. But, Jesus changes everything with his love and compassion for all especially the people who are often cast aside. Jesus rocks the boat. He unsettles us. So, yes, after seeing the man sitting clothed and in peace, I would imagine this became an anniversary story – for some a story of miracle, for others a story of fear.
The swine – It was a bad day for them. After they were possessed by the demons, they became mad and ran. Ran away from what they feared. When you have some time, Google ‘why did Jesus pick the swine to put the demons in’ and you will read all sorts of explanations from well, what else could he do – to He was Jewish, so of course he would pick the swine.
In the end, all these characters were changed. Did everyone get what they wanted? No. If fact, when reading the passage and several interpretations of it, one was titled “In which no one gets want they want.” So, of course, the Rolling Stones lyric starts up in my head– “You don’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what we need.” I would sing it but that would just be embarrassing.
The swineherds lose their job and source of income, but not their lives. The man at the center of the story – he’s free from demons, but doesn’t get to go with Jesus. I’m sure he wanted to leave that city and never return because no one would ever see him the same. He would also be remembered as that crazy guy, but now he’s sane and telling stories about the miracles of Jesus and the love of Christ. No wonder he wanted to leave with Jesus. But, he isn’t allowed and instead becomes a disciple proclaiming how much Jesus has done for him.
“The community is terrified. Although they no longer had to care for the possessed man, they were out of a large source of income. This man’s restoration came at a cost that the community was not willing to pay. They didn’t see Jesus’ act as one of grace and power, but rather as a threat to their way of life. They tell him to leave.” (Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio, sermons)
And, Jesus, he tell the man to return home and declare how much God has done for him, but the man leaves and proclaims how much Jesus has done for him.
So, on this anniversary of mine, I ask myself was it worth it to have my family, friends, and community worry about me so I could help another? Was it worth this high price? Was the change in my life worth it? And, I say yes. Physically I am great. And, my kidney partner, Diane, is really doing well. And, this is a decision and action that turned my life back to church, to God, and a community of people with whom I share a love of God, a community that is welcoming and loving of all people, a community that is willing to help others. I believe that is what Jesus wants for all of us – to love one another and to love God. …..We don’t always get what we want, but if we try sometimes, we get what we need.