Most people today don’t believe in demons and demonic possession. Yet, I claim that today’s Gospel reading is even more relevant today than it was 2,000 years ago. That’s because we don’t live in the age of demons; we live in the age of demonization! Yes, we demonize people; we demonize individuals we don’t agree with; and we demonize whole groups of people. And the greater tragedy is that people don’t want to stop demonizing someone else or another group because they need a scapegoat, someone to blame. So even when the facts don’t agree with them, people invent lies or simply refuse to believe what’s in front of them. That’s what happened with the Jews in Germany and Russia and other European countries in the previous two centuries. Fake documents were created – like the notorious “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” – in order to support the demonization of Jews. And all this led to the Holocaust, the darkest act of evil perhaps in all human history.
In today’s Gospel reading, the local people of the village had cast out this man. He was demonized – or, perhaps they demonized him. Jesus released him, liberated him – but the villagers were not happy. Who would they demonize now? Oh, wait, they got it. They demonized Jesus, and forced him to leave their area. But Jesus asked the man to stay behind, among his own people. The man they demonized now stayed behind to be their healer. A beautiful conclusion. Did he succeed? We don’t know. Human history would tell us that the strategy of staying behind to heal a village or a country rarely has succeeded.
So I, like Jesus, take my leave from this town of the Gerasenes. I don’t want to talk about demons – whether ancient or modern. There’s too much demon talk in the world anyway. I want to turn to Saint Paul. I want to be inspired by that one phrase we heard from him today: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). What an extraordinary statement. And as a perfect example of what it means for Christ to live in me or you, I go back to Colossians chapter 3, that marvelous paragraph I explored yesterday:
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12-17)
If you want a description of what it means for Christ to live in you, you can’t do much better than this. Compassion and kindness in Paul’s mind are inseparable from humility, meekness and patience. Knowing our own neediness prevents us from judging someone who needs our compassion and kindness. Knowing our own neediness of God keeps us from becoming arrogant in our attitude toward others. The meek shall inherit the earth, not the arrogant. And those who are patient – a tough thing to be in our instant gratification society. But if we learn to be patient in our own healing we will be patient with others, “forbearing one another…forgiving each other other…And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in harmony.” Community is the training for all this. And unless love binds everything here where it is easiest, how can we bring love and compassion to the world out there that needs love and compassion so desperately?
But Paul is not finished pouring out inspiration for us who hear him: “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”