Summary: Jesus' encounter with the Gerasene demoniac is a terrifying scene. This sermon applies the circumstances of the demoniac's transformation to contemporary individuals and even groups.
We began the message series last week with a look at the Apostle Peter’s transformation from failure to faith. I used the line “transformation can be a terrifying thing,” because in one transformative moment, Peter went from faith to failure while walking on the water. In a great moment of faith, Peter became terrified of drowning. Even though Jesus was present, Peter was afraid. Peter discovered that transformation can, indeed, be terrifying.
In today’s Gospel reading, we find an episode that is a bit terrifying, too. I mean demons, graveyards and dead pigs. If not terrifying, then certainly disturbing images that challenge our 21st century sensibilities. Could it be because we enjoy living in an atmosphere of quiet contentment? We don’t want anyone or anything rocking our boat. We like stability in our lives. But, Jesus and his disciples encountered a terrifying character in a somewhat terrifying place. The encounter reads like something right out of a Stephen King novel. There is definitely a terrifying presence in the air.
We first encounter a terrifying man. Don’t we remember Linda Blair’s head spinning around in The Exorcist? Put that scene in your mind as you contemplate this passage. This guy was terrifying. There was a terrifying presence that dominated his every thought and every action, so much so that it had ruined his life. The text says the man was demon-possessed, and he was left homeless, naked and living in a graveyard. Separated from his family and community, the man lived in constant tension as he battled his demons.
I am quite certain the man had caused no small disturbance in his family and community. The fact that he was living in the graveyard indicates that society had pushed him to the fringes. This man had likely been a disturbance more than once. The community had gone so far as to shackle him, but that did no good. He simply broke the shackles. To deal with the problem, they simply put him out of town. “Just put him out there and leave him alone” was their way of dealing with the man. The graveyard was an entirely appropriate place for the man to be as far as the community was concerned. The graveyard was the place where demons belonged, and as maniacal as the man was there was little doubt that he was demon-possessed. And the demons in this story are terrifying, too.
What of this demon-possession thing? C. S. Lewis says there are two equal but opposite errors into which we can fall concerning the devil and demons. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe in their existence but to also feel an unhealthy interest in them. As Christians, we believe demons exist in our world, and actual cases of demon possession have been documented. To believe otherwise would be to place ourselves outside the realm of what Jesus believed in the conduct of his ministry, and it would, in fact, make us un-Biblical. But we equally don’t believe that every ailment, every malady, every sickness, every form of bondage is motivated by demon possession. We don’t believe there is a demon behind every tree and under every rock.