Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, June 23, 2013:

First Reading: Isaiah 65:1-9

First Reading (Semi-cont.): 1 Kings 19:1-4 [5-7] 8-15a

Psalm: Psalm 22:18-27 (Psalm 22:19-28 NRSV)

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 42--43

Second Reading: Galatians 3:23-29

Gospel: Luke 8:26-39

I must have read this Gospel lesson over a dozen times through the decades, but this time, the depiction of the demons leaps out at me. These demons who drive the man to distraction--he lives naked by the tombs, he is so distracted. These demons who disturb the neighbors who try to contain the man and his demons by chaining him and guarding him. I recognize these demons!

I also recognize our helplessness in dealing with these demons.  We may be horrified at the idea of this man kept in chains, but I suspect that future generations will be equally appalled at the ways we've dealt with troubling humans, or refused to deal with them.

Now, let me stress that I read the demons as metaphorical. I've met people who believe in literal demon possession, and some of them make a compelling case. But in the end, I agree with those who say that ancient people couldn't explain mental illnesses any other way. I've also met plenty of mentally ill people who would make me believe in demon possession, if I didn't have a medical explanation.

I don't want to spend much time writing about true mental illness, but instead about the demons who possess us all. Who among us hasn't spent an anxious night worrying about things we couldn't control (finances, our loved ones, our health)? Perhaps we fall into a sinister pattern of sleepless nights being haunted by the world's worries. Most of us have probably gone through periods where we come perilously close to wrecking our relationships with our loved ones because of our obsessive worries about them.

If only my inner demons could be driven out into a swine herd, or whatever the modern equivalent would be. If only I could be free from those wretches of worry that wake me at night and won't let me sleep for fear of all that could go wrong.

Perhaps I should try giving these cares to Jesus and let Jesus drive them away.  I've tried doing that.  When I can't sleep at night, I pray. I can't do anything to solve most of the world's ills, but I know a power that can. When I wake up at night and start worrying, I try to remember to turn to prayer. Eventually my mind quiets, and I drift off to sleep.

I'm also struck in this story by the formerly demon-possessed man who begs to be allowed to travel with Jesus. Jesus sends him home. It's a powerful story for people like me. I often feel that if I was a better Christian, I'd be doing more to give up my worldly goods and live amongst the poor. If I was a really good Christian, I'd be off somewhere in Africa, alleviating suffering in some way.

Some of us are called to do that. But most of us are called to stay put, to declare the goodness of God right where we live.

Perhaps if I did a better job of declaring God's goodness, my demons would find it harder to find a dwelling place in me. 

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