Summary: Jesus encounters a man with so many demons the man says his name is "Legion." Yet, the community is not afraid of this man. Like our culture, the biblical community had grown comfortable with evil.
by the Rev. Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh, Jr.
Sunrise Presbyterian Church
When I was in high school, there was a local legend about the Blue Ghost of Maddox Bridge Road. Some 10 or 20 years earlier, two high school students had been out on a date.
They were driving back home when the young boy lost control of the car. The car had been going 80 miles per hour on this winding, twisting country road, and when the driver lost control, the car ran off the road right at the bridge. The car went into the Saluda River. Two days later, they found the body of the teenage girl, but they never found the boy’s body.
Over time, local legend grew about how at midnight, you could sometimes see a blue light in the water — the ghost of the teenage boy looking for his girl friend.
One day, my best friend and I started talking to each other at school about how we had seen the Blue Ghost of Maddox Bridge Road. We were talking in low, confidential tones, confident that everyone around us was trying to eavesdrop. We quietly talked about how we were going to go back out there that night to see the Blue Ghost of Maddox Bridge Road.
That night, a dozen cars gathered together on Maddox Bridge Road, and sure enough, down at the edge of the river, there was a blue light. The ghost of Maddox Bridge Road. It took half an hour for someone to get the courage to walk through the woods to the river’s edge and to investigate the blue light. Slowly, carefully, he walked down to the light, and just as he was within 10 or 20 feet, my best friend and I jumped out of the woods and yelled, "AHHHHHHHGGGHH."
Our poor victim ran all the way back to road while the rest of us laughed and laughed because after all, the ghost was nothing more than a flash light placed inside a blue glass vase.
A lot of us love ghost stories. Horror movies. Halloween tricks.
And here in Luke’s gospel, there is a wonderfully frightening story. Here are the elements of a classic ghost story that would make anyone’s hair stand up in fear.
There is a demon-possessed man. But that is not what frightens people in the story.
This man has been naked and homeless for years. He hangs around the cemetery. He shouts at Jesus. But that is not what frightens people in this story.
When Jesus asks his name, there is that dramatic moment when the demon-possessed man says, "Legion" because there are so many demons in him. But that is not what frightens people in this story.
When Jesus exorcises the demons, he allows them to go into a herd of pigs. The pigs go wild and run off a cliff to their deaths. What a strange image that is. And yet, that is not what is frightening to the people.
You know what scares the people?
Luke writes this in his book: "When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid."
I’ve got to tell you, if I’m walking the road and some naked man comes out of the cemetery yelling at me, that would unnerve me.
But in the story, these people have become accustomed to this.
What frightens them is that this man who was evil, becomes good.
What frightens them is the holy, not the unholy.
It is not just discomfort they feel. It is fear, chilled blood, weak kneed fear. Luke goes onto say in his Gospel, "Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear."
Doesn’t it strike you as strange that these people are afraid of the wrong things and comfortable with the wrong things.
These people are afraid of that which ought to comfort them.
And they are very much at ease with the very things that ought to haunt them with fear.
And you know the scariest thing of all? Their story is our story.
Because the greatest problem facing our society today is that we have become all too comfortable with evil.
William Bennett wrote a little book a few years ago which he named, "The Death of Outrage." There was a time when society showed outrage at people’s misconduct. But no more. We accept the flaws of others so easily, that we accept their misconduct without hesitation. It is not that we forgive these people -- we simply excuse their behavior. In the words of our Old Testament lesson, we have forgotten how to blush. We have no shame.