Name your demons

Luke 8:26-39

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

As miracles go, casting out demons is probably my least favorite. The blind seeing, the deaf hearing, the lame walking: they are all familiar, even conceptually comfortable, miracles. Raising the dead, while obviously a much higher order of miracle, is still relatively easy to visualize. Conceivably a faith healer could cure psychosomatically induced blindness or deafness. But death is a completely different matter. Only the author of life can command death. Jesus uses his power over life and death to proclaim his divinity and foretell his Resurrection and ours. But what’s all this exorcism business about?

For starters, it’s a more complex miracle. The other miracles are all two-party transactions: the miracle worker and the recipient. Exorcism involves a third party that is the wildest of wild cards. A literal reading of this gospel identifies the third party as Satan embodied in his legion of demonic underlings. A more clinical reading shows the demonic third party as a schizophrenic alter ego that controls and tortures its host; manifesting itself in increasingly obnoxious, alienating and dangerous behavior. In the past year hardly a month has gone by without these demons lashing out to gun down a dozen movie goers, three dozen children and their teachers, a tourist family at a train station or most commonly mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, wives and children who have struggled for years to confront and contain the demons that haunt their suffering loved-ones.

Christ is not afraid or repulsed by the man possessed. The same is true for so many families who still cherish memories of a loving child now hardly recognizable in the angry, unkempt young adult who stands before them. And yet their child is still their child; perhaps more helpless now than when their cute kid pictures were taken. How simple life would be if we had the power to drive their demons into swine, particularly before they lashed out to do themselves and others harm. While we don’t have that power, Christ gives us another. We have his love and we can share it in so many loving ways.

Let’s pray right now for those suffering with mental illness. Lord have mercy on them. Let’s pray for their loved ones. Lord give them strength. Let’s pray for their victims. Lord give them your peace. Let’s pray for our country and its leaders, that they make recognition and treatment of these tortured souls a national priority. Come Holy Spirit.

And finally let’s pray for ourselves. Christ asked the possessed man to name his demons. We should ask ourselves the same question. Are our demons obvious: drink, drugs, internet pornography? Or are our demons hidden but just as pernicious: pride, revenge, hypocrisy, greed or just a low-energy indifference to loving God and neighbor?

Committed to a vocation that focuses on encountering God in the midst of everyday life, the Rev. David Sellery serves as an Episcopal priest who seeks to proclaim the good news of God in Christ in worship, pastoral care, education, stewardship, and congregational growth.

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