At Rest and Bread last night, Jeff V. reflected on the story of the Gerasene demoniac (Luke 8:26-39). I love this story so much. I think I was properly introduced to it by Amy-Jill Levine at Convo 2008 -- though I can't actually remember much of what she said about it.
Jeff talked about how people often fear the liberator (unknown) more than the oppressor (known).
He said that Tillich defines the demonic as that which we treat as God and which turns on us.
Jeff used the example of the oil in the Gulf of Mexico -- we all agree that what happened was a disaster, but the changes we would have to make in our lives and in society to wean ourselves off of oil seems to be much more frightening than this disaster. [Yes, I know there's no risk-free energy source, but I think the general point stands: that sometimes even when we can indicate a particular problem and a particular solution, we aren't willing to take the risks/make the sacrifices that solution would require of us -- which I think is a common story throughout the Gospels.]
In the shared reflection time, Ian H. said that while Tillich's idea makes sense for some of the demon stories, it doesn't work for him in this story, because Jeff's examples were money, success, etc. -- stuff which if this guy had, society would have welcomed him in. Ian said that this story reminded him more of PTSD -- demons that we created and which we then can't bear to be a witness to, and so we send them away.
Masha commented on the fact that while the man's words (which were really the demon's words) rejected Jesus, the man's physical actions drew him toward Jesus.
At JPLicks afterward, Masha talked about how she grew up in a context where the idea of modern-day miracles was taken for granted, and that she found the prospect of a miracle happening to her really frightening -- because it means we live in an irrational world (what ELSE you thought couldn't happen could?) and also there's the concern: what if there are strings attached?
In the post-service discussions, people kept mentioning the destruction of the swine herd. I pointed out that this story was being told to Jews about non-Jews, so for Jews it would make perfect sense that the unclean demons were sent into the unclean swine who were then sent over the cliff -- that this continuum would have made perfect sense to them (I think credit goes to the bff for this framing of it). [I love that the text Jeff gave me refers to the country of the Gerasenes as being "opposite Galilee."]
At JPLicks, either Al or Masha commented about how people fear that which they cannot understand/control -- in this case, both the demoniac and Jesus.
I read the Sacred Text aloud, both before and after the Reflection, and I am having the same problem now as I did at shared reflection time -- that I have so many thoughts that I don't know what to say.
I was struck by Jesus asking, "What is your name?" This man is afflicted and ostracized, and it feels so tender to me that Jesus asks him his name.
Other people mentioned the power of naming an affliction -- which is also a good point.
Oh, and one more thing: At JPLicks we talked about some about whether demons are real or not, and I said that whether this person was really possessed by demons or was mentally ill (leaving aside the issue of whether afflictions manifest differently depending on how a person's socio-cultural context understands them) or whatever, I felt like one of the major points of the story was that God through Jesus has the power to liberate us from that which oppresses us and keeps us in (nonconsensual) bondage, and can empower us to reintegrate into community.
2 months ago