I have heard it said that claustrophobic people are more productive thinking out of the box. (think about it …)
Today’s Gospel reading challenges us to think out of the box about our health and well-being.
When any one of us is tempted to think that we can completely sort out our lives and everyone elses (all before breakfast) then we are more productive thinking out of that neatly-self-contained box. But where does that take us? It takes us to Jesus. Luke’s Gospel brings us back, again and again, to Jesus, and away from our self-preoccupation. Throughout his Gospel, Luke offers an amazing range of examples of Jesus healing a vast number of things that compromise our well-being. The implicit messages are that God is about healings – and the ‘out of the box’ bit is that nothing is beyond the power of God’s healing.
Jesus has been shown by Luke to deal with physical ailments (paralysis, leprosy, withered hands and fevers), the dying (Centurian’s servant), and even the dead (widow of Nain’s son), the guilty (paralysed man lowered through the roof) and the self-righteous (who criticised plucking corn on Shabat), and in the verses immediately before our Gospel, he deals with the power of a storm at sea; now he deals with evil possession.
Now let me acknowledge one of the many differences between Jesus’ context and ours in the western world, in the 21st century after his birth, namely, that although for the Church in many parts of the world, such possession is a common experience, that is not a category (indeed, a box) in which we readily file such things.
We might point to how mental illness and severe psychotic disturbance can lead to such behaviour as in our Gospel story – indeed, it can lead, we would readily acknowledge, to attempts at self-destruction and to physical attacks on others – there are some tragic examples of this. In these cases, healing will come usually from the God-given sources of medicine and psychiatry. However, in verse 39, where Jesus tells the man, “Go back home, and report all that God has done for you”, there is a clear pointer not only to proclaiming the healing power of Jesus, but also to the role of the Christian community in reinforcing the on-going, long-term healing. This includes prayer, but also it includes the healing power of the recognition of the worth of every human being, so that their needs are considered and their worth is respected. God does joined-up healing. God does partnerships in lifelong healing. It is not a choice between medical and psychiatric care, prayer or social improvement; rather, all of them, working together, contribute to the lifelong transformation that is God’s will for each of us.
The Gospel, however, is multi-faceted and nuanced according to our context, that is, according to who and how we are- that’s why it always resists being trapped in just one neat box! – so, whilst all those aspects of our lifelong healing are usually the way God works, it is nonetheless true that one of the most basic healings needed, barely under the surface, is a pervasive sense of hopelessness. Luke addresses that as the culmination of his Gospel message, which goes seriously into slow-motion at the end of his Gospel to show Jesus, passive and done-to, dying, for us, on the cross. In that sacrifice, and the resurrection that flows out of the sacrifice, comes the hope at the heart of the cosmos. This, and this alone, is our ultimate healing.
On one level, in our Gospel story of the Gerasene demoniac, Luke simply tells it as it is – and gives it to us ‘straight’! Evil is real, and needs recognition, resistance and replacing with active graciousness. We are, indeed, caught-up in spiritual warfare, and will be until ‘the last day’, so let us not kid ourselves that Christianity is a religious rose-garden,
but it is the only lasting source of hope, health and healing. In the sacrificial death of Jesus we can be drawn into the only enduring way of new life.
At St Luke’s, Winton, at 6.30 pm Daniel will be ‘christened’ (aka baptised) – do pray for him. To be ‘christened’ is to be made one with Christ, in his death, and in his resurrection – for therein, alone, lies the lifelong and life-beyond the grave, healing for each of us.
God yearns for us to say,’Yes’ to Him. Go for it! +