Christ Will Set You Free
June 13, 2010
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Does What Happened Have Any Thing To Do With Me?
1. The gospel reading for today is a story about a man who was possessed by unclean spirits but then was set free by Christ. But, that's not all. Meanwhile, a story appears along side it of a large herd of pigs that drowned. It looks to me like there were some who viewed these as originally related events. To the people of the region they related what happened with the man possessed by unclean spirits and his being set free and also what happened with the large number of pigs that died. How did those who heard these [events] react? "Then, the people made a request of Jesus, they wanted him to leave their region," (verse seven). That's what the text says.
2. Between the two stories that have been passed on, the one they paid attention to [most] seems clear. It is [the one about] the pigs' dying. They couldn't bear something like this happening [to them] over and over. Feeling that way, they asked if he would please go on to somewhere else. They were hardly concerned with the other big thing that happened with the man possessed by unclean spirits who was set free. Why is that? It is probably because it had nothing to do with them personally. If they thought that what happened to that man was something that they "needed for themselves," perhaps they wouldn't have asked [Jesus] to go away. For example, if it had been a healing involving a more typical illness, they would have probably acted differently. -- Because they might have been sick themselves. Or because they might have had sick loved ones. Then things would have gone differently [and they might have said,] "Jesus, won't you please stay with us a bit longer?" But none of them could ever see themselves dwelling in the tombs. They never dreamed they could be screaming in the mountains in a cemetery both day and night. Therefore, what happened to the man who dwelled in the tombs had nothing to do with them or their family and friends. Instead, more important to them was the hogs they lost. Therefore, this explains why they were the way they were and said, "Jesus, please leave! Good-bye!"
3. However, the disciples who saw this, those who heard the event told later on, as well as the church who had passed this narrative down, did not think that what happened to this man was an event unrelated to themselves. They did not think that it was a special case that had nothing to do with them. Therefore, this story has been told and is still being told now. In other words, people across the generations have seen their own figures in the man who dwelled in the cemetery. They have felt, "That's me!" Therefore, they have felt that they absolutely needed Jesus. They didn't make the request, "Jesus, please go away!," but said, "Jesus, please stay!" Whether it might involve some sacrifice, or a time they might have to suffer some loss, or something like losing pigs, (whenever it was a time of persecution, things like losing one's home or possessions might happen), but either way, they requested him, "Jesus, please stay!," and they were very desirous of living with Jesus.
The Man Possessed By The Unclean Spirits
4. So, let's focus our attention on the figure of this man again. What kind of shape will we seem to have [as we look] at [him]?
5. First, this man was an inhabitant of the cemetery. In Japan's case, it would be impossible to live in a cemetery. Just moving a gravestone is hard. Generally speaking, the inside [of a grave] is not wide. But, since the graves back then were mainly dug-out caves, there was never [a case where] one could not live in one if a person wanted to. Nevertheless, cemeteries are not normally places where people live every day. Those places are truly a world of death, where there is no interactivity with other living fellow human beings.
6. I have never lived in a cemetery. I dare say neither have any of you. However, it just may be that we have lived every day like we're in a cemetery. The fact that a human being is alive doesn't mean that he or she has life as a living thing. Life as a human being lies in interaction with others. Interaction with God. Interaction with people. A person is alive, in a real sense, when he or she loves. Therefore, the scripture also has words like these: "The person who does not love is just as if he or she abided in death," (First John 3:14). Regardless of whether the heart is pumping or the blood is flowing, "The person who does not love is just as if he or she abided in death," the Bible says. No matter how big of a crowd one is surrounded by or even if one has been bustling over with activity, even if it looks like a person has a presence in human society, when that person abides in hatred, he or she abides in death, and he or she is in, as it were, a cemetery.
7. Second, this man is said to be "possessed by unclean spirits." The name for the defiling demons is given later in the text. It is "Legion." The word "Legion" originally stood for a military formation in the Roman army. It is said that this military formation [about the size of a brigade] had six thousand soldiers. Many defiled spirits, matching the size of a brigade, were in control of him and leading him about. So, it got to where he could not live with human beings. As we see later, he had a house. He also has a family. But, he got to where he could not live with his family, and he turned into a cemetery dweller.
8. Not too many people will be familiar with the expression "unclean spirits" which is found in the biblical text. But whether you call it "unclean spirits" or something else [like defiling demons], there are times when a person is led about by a power that goes way beyond human control. There are times when interactions between one person and another are destroyed in the concrete world of reality by various impulses at work within human beings. Likewise then, there are times when the exchange of love that fills life is lost, and the place where people should by nature live with each other ends up becoming like a cemetery. Isn't that the real world? This experience of a legion -- a brigade of six thousand soldiers -- running rampant inside us at times seems every bit to be pertinent and relevant to us.
9. Third, the text says this man "had frequently been bound by fetters and chains until this moment." The local people tried to keep him locked up in chains. They intended to solve the problem by restricting the freedom of his movements. Anybody would have had an idea like that. [In this case] they seek a solution in fetters and chains. Of course, nowadays, using fetters may not in fact be the way it's done. Nor is tying someone with chains likely to be done. Yet, in place of chains and fetters, [we] might use the laws on the books and the regulations for penal sentencing. Since [the person] is free, problems will arise, and so the way of thinking that says minimize the problems by enforcing restrictions and laws for punishment is a part of any time period. This type of claim can still be heard today in various places.
10. However, if [a group] suppresses freedom of movement, does it lead to a resolution? No, it doesn't. A power greater than that is at work from within, the chains will end up broken off. But yet, it often happens that even though [a person] may actually break off [his or her] chains, the problem of the imprisoned interior [self] will not be resolved one bit. The more [a person] is bound by chains, the stronger the impulse becomes as it pushes its way out from the interior. The more the unclean spirits are tied to [someone], the more actively they come out. Even though it may look on the surface like [one] is docilely and quietly tied in chains, the soul is screaming out in pain. And it does happen where one tears off the chains without realizing it. Even though [a person] is tied up again and again, [he or she] will tear off the chains. This kind of stuff happens.
11. Fourth, the text says this man "was screaming in the cemetery and the mountains, and he was striking himself with stones." The one who could break off the chains could not forgive himself. Dissatisfied with himself, he could not forgive himself. He hated the self with which he was not satisfied, and he hated that he couldn't do anything about it. So, he punished himself with his own [hands]. He struck and hurt himself. Though he hurt and punished himself, it did not bring about any resolution whatsoever. There was no deliverance in any of it for him. But, he could not stop doing it. Can you get a glimpse of understanding of the feelings of this man acting that way? Though to different degrees, there are times we act out in similar ways.
Jesus Came [On Our Behalf]
12. But what is today's gospel reading saying to us? It is that this man was not overlooked. He was not overlooked by God. By crossing over the wildly storming sea, Jesus came to the exact place this man was. Jesus came to the land of the Gerasenes, saying, "Lets' cross to the opposite shore!," (verse thirty-five). That's how the story goes.
13. Yes, it goes that way. Isn't this our story? Jesus came [for us]. Jesus came right to the cemeteries where we are. Jesus came to the places where we are striking ourselves by our own [hands]. Jesus came to the places where we are screaming in pain. Jesus came into our godless lives, to our very own land of the Gerasenes right where we are. And so here we are now in the church.
14. For what purpose did Jesus come? Was it to tie [us] up with chains and fetters, like those people [in the story did]? Was it to tie [us] up with a lot of societal rules and punishing laws? No, that's not why [he came]. He came for the purpose of loving us. He came for the purpose of being merciful towards us and delivering us. The Lord says to this man, "Let everyone know everything about how the Lord has shown you mercy and what he has done for you!," (verse nineteen).
15. That being the case, what will we do? This man ran to [Jesus] and laid himself prostrate before [him] because he knew that he could do nothing for good about the fetters and chains and because he knew that even if he struck himself, it would never solve a thing. Therefore, as if clinging to [Jesus], he laid himself prostrate before [him]. He did, and so should we lay ourselves prostrate before Jesus. We should throw these impotent selves of ours down in the presence of Jesus.
16. But at times another voice, a quarreling and divisive voice, escalates within us. It is just like how it happened in this man. He shouted, "Jesus, son of the most high God, don't pay us any mind! I don't want you to torture us as it will be in the afterlife." It was the voice of the unclean spirits. It was the voices saying leave us alone. [It was] the feeling that I don't want to change, the feeling that I want to stay the same. He was quarrelling and divided in two. "I want you to rescue me. I want you to save me. But, I also want you to leave me alone. Don't pay me any mind! Don't torment me!"
17. So then what did he do? Following the voice that said leave me alone, he departed from Jesus. No, he stayed with Jesus. Jesus also stayed with him. What's more, they are friends and as allies not as enemies. We understand from Jesus' words. Jesus said, "Unclean spirits, come out of him!" Completely there for him, Jesus stood by this man's side, as his ally, and commanded the unclean spirits out. As his ally, Jesus himself fought with the unclean spirits. There had been nobody to be an ally for him in that real sense; for, even his own self had not been an ally for him.
18. So then, ultimately Jesus set him free from Legion. That event is described as follows. "The unclean spirits pleaded with Jesus, 'Send [us] into the pigs, make [us] move into them!' As Jesus gave them permission, the unclean spirits came out [of the man] and went into the pigs. Whereupon, a herd of as many as two thousand head of hogs went down the cliff and rushed into the sea, and they drowned in the sea one after the other," (verses twelve and thirteen). -- A great sized herd of hogs rushing into the sea. -- The painful screams of drowning pigs. Upon seeing this, he surely thought, if Jesus had not been [here], "I truly would have been annihilated like these pigs."
19. Like I said at the beginning, generations of people have seen their own figures in this man from Gerasene. And they have seen in the figure of Jesus the one who has resurrected from the dead and who lives right now, Jesus Christ. The church is not a place to prepare fetters and chains in order to enforce behaviors. By the laws that humans give and the chains that humans offer, the problem of sin does not get resolved. The church is the place where we run straight to Jesus, the one who crossed over to be at our side. It is the place where we throw our bodies down before Jesus. Jesus has crossed over to us. That's why we have hope. We don't have to wrestle it out anymore on our own. We don't have to live always wrestling with our helpless selves, tearing, groaning, striking ourselves, injuring ourselves, and causing ourselves pain. Jesus has come [on our behalf]. The kingdom of God is nigh. There is salvation and deliverance right there in Jesus. [Christ will set you free!]