“What have you to do with me?”
Ever have one of those moments where you’re walking down the street, or through the mall and off in the distance you see someone you know? So you start to wave and smile, you’re happy to see your friend! As you continue walking toward this friend you can’t wait to talk to, you start to make out their face a little more clearly, and then you realize you don’t know who that person is at all! Has this ever happened to any of you? No? Well me neither.
There are times when things aren’t quite what they seem. Times where you may be surprised by what you discover. We used to have two rescued racing greyhounds, and one day Bev was out walking them when she stopped to talk to a friend in the neighbourhood. They went into the backyard and were looking at the in-ground pool. That’s when one of the dogs decided she needed a closer look and realized she couldn’t walk on the blue part of the lawn.
Today’s miracle is a bit of looking at both sides of these kinds of stories. On one side the person made the right assumption of who he was seeing, on the other, they weren’t sure.
Jesus has arrived at a small village by boat and as soon as he gets out he’s recognized from a distance by a man who is possessed by a demon or an unclean spirit. This man lives in the tombs, among the dead, which pretty much guaranteed he would be seen as unclean and ignored by the wider community.
But he is also a strong man, he keeps breaking the shackles they would use to tie him up and restrain him with. In fact, no one can overpower him any longer to tie him down. This man is no doubt causing great fear in the community because of his strength and being completely out of his mind. He cries all night long, like an animal, and cuts himself repeatedly in attempts to end the pain and suffering he is being subjected to.
The man is living in torture. Tormented by demons; shunned by the public; attacked by those who try to control him and his movement; people are terrified by his presence in the community. The guy is a bit of a freak show.
But then Jesus steps out of the boat. Immediately the man recognizes who he is and runs to him, falling flat on the ground in front of him, prostrate; a sign of respect and submission to a higher authority.
This is an interesting encounter between Jesus and the man. In fact, Jesus is not conversing with the man, but rather with the evil spirit living inside of him. Which again, speaks to the importance of how Jesus was recognized so easily from a distance.
It was not the man who recognized Jesus, but rather it was the evil spirit, or as we learn in the conversation, the spirits! It is the demons within who control the man, making him strong, causing him to do all the things he does like casting off his clothes and breaking free from his shackles causing great fear in the community.
Look at the first words said by the demons. “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.”
The spirit recognized Jesus first, but not only recognized who he is, but recognized his power! The spirit knew that Jesus had power and authority over him, and he knew Jesus was there to exercise it.
The evil spirit pleads for Jesus to take it easy on him. He pleads and begs for mercy in what is to come. The spirit is afraid of Jesus because as he clearly exclaimed, Jesus is the Son of the Most High God. No one told him this, the spirit just knew it instinctively. He recognized Jesus for who he was himself.
And he knew this was not a good thing.
So Jesus grants the request to be allowed to enter the herd of pigs and from there they run to their death, drowning in the sea.
Imagine though the power and authority Jesus has over these evil spirits. Not only do they recognize him and fear him, but they ask his permission to be allowed to leave the man and enter into something else. Once they enter into the pigs, they run to their death, drowning themselves in the sea.
What power Jesus has! What a public witness to who he is and what he can do! Even the evil spirits submit to him. Spirits no one has been able to control with ropes and chains, Jesus controls with simply his presence and his words.
How does the people who witness this event react? Do we see them cheering in the streets that this terror among them has been eliminated? Do they raise Jesus up on their shoulders and march him down Main Street?
No, they are afraid.
Like we saw last week when Jesus calmed the storm, saving the lives of those who were sailing on it with him, they became more afraid than when they were about to die at sea.
This week, we see Jesus eliminate a very serious threat to the community, and the people are terrified. The pig herders flee into the town and tell people what they saw. The people respond by coming out and begging Jesus to leave the area. Once again, people are more afraid by what Jesus can do than what they have seen with their own eyes.
Jesus has power over evil spirits. It’s pretty clear only God has this ability. The man who was once filled with these spirits gets it. He begs to see if he can travel with Jesus when they begin to leave. But Jesus instead tells the man to share what has been done with him. “Go tell your family and friends how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you,” Jesus tells him.
It’s interesting that in the Bible people are afraid of Jesus. Why is this? What is there to be afraid of?
Jesus does good things right? He teaches people Good News. He heals people. He saves people’s lives. Is there anything wrong with this? Of course not!
So why is there fear? Why are people terrified when Jesus does things like calm the storm or cast out demons?
Because he’s God.
In simple terms, as God among us, Jesus scares us. What is so terrifying about a close encounter with God?
It’s us. We’re the problem.
When we come into the holy presence of God, when the light shines close to us, we see our faults. We see where we have fallen short of following as God has instructed us to live.
Our sins can no longer be hidden and ignored because we realize that once we are in the presence of a perfect God they show like infected wounds. We realize we are unworthy of such love from a perfect God.
We want to run and hide. We want God to go away because we just can’t deal with it right now, it’s too hard for us. We’re quite comfortable in our ignorant bliss that nothing is wrong.
We can’t be perfect. There is only one who is. But we can be made whole.
Discovering the sin in our lives is not a bad thing. It is not something to fear. It is something to embrace because God can help us be healed of these things. Only God can make us clean.
The man with the evil spirits, no one could do anything about it. Nothing could be done until Jesus comes. In fact, all the miracles we’ve been looking at over the last month show that it is only Jesus who can do these things.
Jesus heals more than just the body. Jesus heals our spirits. Jesus has control over things which we do not. Jesus has power over nature; he has power over the supernatural; he has power of good and evil. Even demons themselves tremble when we comes near.
How much does God love us?
He loves us so much He sent his only Son to take away our sin. He came himself to show us how to live and to show His power and His love.
O God, what have you to do with me?
God wants us to be clean. To be whole. To be His.
His Son shows us this.
His Son died for this.
His Son rose from the grave to show us we can have it forever.
Thanks be to God. Amen.