Luke 8: 26-39
Today we meet someone who is in need of Jesus’ healing power, and on the surface we are able to track the path of events and see how Jesus heals the man and then continues on. There are some elements that provide interest to the story, but on the whole, it could be seen as quite a simple tale. Sadly, the Gospels are rarely so neat and comfortable. What we hear from Luke today is filled with symbolism and underlying information that isn’t always apparent on the first pass. In this passage there is much to explore, but I will concentrate on three points that we can find within the text that tell us much more besides the story itself…
Firstly, the geographical location in which this takes place is not a Jewish area. How do we know? The Jewish people thought that pigs were an unclean animal. They didn’t farm pigs and anyone who spent time near them was deemed to be unclean. It certainly wasn’t the sort of place you’d expect to find a Jewish teacher. Jesus was out of place in this location. We hear how the people asked Jesus to leave, they were fearful of him. Jesus must have represented something incredibly unfamiliar to them, so much so that they didn’t want him around any longer than necessary.
Secondly the use of the word ‘legion’. This is an interesting literary device that is being employed here. One might firstly assume that the word is chosen to indicate that there was more than one demon, after all that is what we are told! However, some scholars believe that the word legion was chosen specifically at this point to give an extra depth to what we hear. Written during a time of Roman oppression, the word legion gives rise to thoughts of occupying forces, the kind of forces that could be the cause of trauma and subsequent issues that we today would recognise as mental challenges. To find someone suffering in such a way due to the trauma caused by actions of occupying or invasive armed forces becomes much less surprising when we consider it in terms such as this.
Finally, Jesus’ order for the man to return home and tell others about his healing. As previously mentioned with the pigs, anything deemed to be ‘unclean’ was removed from the community. It is a logic that is demonstrated similarly in our idea of quarantine today (or self isolation as we now call it!). A lack of understanding about the transmissibility of certain conditions has historically led to isolation. In this instance, the man was removed from his community in order to preserve the others. Upon being healed he asks Jesus if he might follow him but Jesus refuses and instead sends the man back to his community to spread the word about his healing. Jesus identifies that it is better for the community to hear the story of the man and for him to be able to be a fruitful witness by returning to his home. Here was a community that needed to see the works of the Lord and this man was able to serve Jesus by acting as a witness to his healing power.
Being able to spend time with a gospel passage is always fruitful. This is one that has much to teach us and by following any of the threads above deeper we could find ourselves opening up a whole host of other information and symbolism. But for now, I believe that in just taking a little more time over it and identifying these things, we’ve made a good start. I wonder what we’ll discover next time we read it?
Revd Hannah Lane