I am not sure if I have had this week, or rather, if this week has had me. I’m positively out of my mind. I walked into my barber shop, got a haircut, got up out of the chair, thanked the barber, then walked out of his shop without paying him! I was not myself. The next day, after I realized my faux pas, I promptly arrived at the barber shop to pay him the fee and offer an $8 tip.
This week’s ministry load has left me feeling over-run. The phone calls, emails, texts, messages from Linked In and Tumblr, preparations for couples’ study and confirmation lessons, two regular Sunday services, a funeral today at 2PM, and the emotional, sometimes beautiful, often painful pastoral care load—have hit me like a legion. This week has kept me too busy to grocery shop, too task-laden to retain my typical pro-active passive stance, too stunned when my eyeglasses fell apart in my hands, and too saddened one night even to rest. So here I am, amidst it all, merely trying to take each day as it comes rather than unintentionally trying to bear the weight of the entire week at once. It’s maddening. I totally get how a person can forget themselves, lose identity, live among the tombs, and be away from people.
Is it so hard to be over-run? I think not!
Luke 8:26-39 records such a story of one being over-run:
26Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— 29for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. 32Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. 34When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him. (NRSV)
A man calls himself, “Legion.” Reckon he feels over-run?
After all, in his day, a Roman legion is considered the most lethal killing force ever. In our day, the History Channel had a documentary that even details how Roman emperors feared the legions their empire’d created. Roman legions were forces of 5000+ trained military warriors. They had a skill at over-running cities, fields, nations.
Clearly the Gerasene man feels over-run.
The occupation by “Legion” has created loss of identity, loss of clarity, loss of a cohesive center, loss of self- understanding, perhaps complete and entire loss of the sense of self. Legion has marched into him crushing, shattering, disintegrating, tearing, dividing, despoiling and dispossessing as it marches onward and inward. The over-run overwhelms the man, leaving him disconnected, a fractional collective of 5000+ barely identifiable pieces of personhood.
And, aren’t there times when we might say the same for ourselves? Aren’t there times when we feel as though a force of 5000+ has marched over us and into us, left us shattered into 5000+ barely identifiable pieces?
And, in such moments, aren’t we feeling like there is no center, as though we are lost to self, lost to others, totally vulnerable, stripped of identity, despoiled, undefended, and (whatever is left of us) entirely alone?
We shouldn’t wonder at the man setting up residence in the tombs. We do it, too. Our lives hint at this when we crave “cave” time? And to this end, what is a cave but the simplest of ancient tombs? Don’t we get away from anything that looks as though it might attempt another over-run? Wouldn’t we join the man in leaving our city homes to let the “fragmentary us” find solace amongst the dead? It is not so terribly surprising that one feeling dead would seek the solace of the dead. I walk amongst the headstones of my parish cemetery when I am feeling dead. Ever find peace to be granted by a stroll in an old graveyard?
If you didn’t opt to head to the cemetery, what would drive you into the graveyard? Think of a time when “Legion” overran you! The divorce. The miscarriage. The home foreclosure. The death of the child. The unexpected pregnancy. The Texas flood taking your home. The Orlando shooting taking a son or daughter. The marriage proposal rejected. The parents “gifting” you to a sexual predator to satisfy a debt. These and many other such events can drive us to the tombs, can’t they? Can’t we lose ourselves in these moments? Can’t we lose our life, our sense of identity, our sense of personhood? Don’t some of these events leave us a shattered collective of 5000+ pieces? I’ve no idea what tragedy has shattered you, but I remember those that have shattered me.
What was once “us” is what is now claimed by “Legion.” Our soil is marked by “Legion’s” footprints, tent stakes, campfires, and cesspools. We are despoiled, occupied, devastated, a rotting wreck of who we once were. And into our desolation Jesus steps, paying no mind to “Legion,” uninhibited by the unenviable task of seeing through the 5000+ fragments of who-we-once-were to call out of the wreck the authentic person misshapen by the over-run.
Jesus knows the real us, the us created in the image of God, the us made through the Son, the us kept alive by the Spirit’s breath. The over-run can’t lay claim to these realities. These realities “Legion” can’t overwhelm. Perhaps “Legion” can camouflage these, cause us to deny, ignore, forget, or decry these realities, but in nowise can “Legion” change them.
Isn’t this why the Gerasene man recognizes Jesus? Doesn’t he see in Jesus the truth of who he is? The truth of his identity? The image of his real self?
Isn’t Jesus the light of authenticity that shines into us illuminating the real us while laying claim to our shadow side as well?
Doesn’t Jesus make us new? Put us back into reality? Make us beautiful. Restore to us innate beauty? Doesn’t Jesus place truth within us to challenge the untruth? To reform the fragmentary? To reshape the distorted? To bring authenticity into the disrealities we embrace? Isn’t this how Jesus drives “Legion” from us?
“Legion” is not our identity, not our truth, not our owner, not our name! Jesus knows this truth. Jesus knows our real name. This is why “Legion” has to leave. Truth compels it to go. Truth puts us back together. Truth restores us. Truth isn’t content to let “Legion” place its lying claim on us. Truth sets us in our right mind. Truth places us back into community. Truth shows our nakedness and hangs clothing on our frame. Truth gives us back our personhood. Truth settles us and seats us face to face with Jesus. For truth is Jesus and “Legion” has no share in him!
Look at your life. Think of a time when “Legion” laid claim to you. Is that your story? Is that what you have to tell? Are you a child of the Truth yet over-run by a lie? You can continue in that narrative. In fact, you will continue in that narrative until you are sick of it, sick of dwelling amongst the tombs. But isn’t there another story? Isn’t there a better story? What about the story of the day when Jesus sauntered up and told “Legion” to get the hell out of you? Isn’t that the story of how Jesus restored your life, set you back into your right mind, set the fragmented you to rights? Wasn’t that the day when truth sat you face to face with Jesus?
Isn’t that a better story? And isn’t that the story our world needs to hear? Our world has had one hell of a week. Yes—from Orlando to Pennsylvania, from ISIS terror to rabid fans in the UK, it looks as though “Legion” has overwhelmed our world and over-run us all, but haven’t we a better story to tell?
I think we do. And I think it sounds like this, “’Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’ So [the Gerasene man] went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.”
Now its our turn, for this our story, too.