A sermon for St Mary’s Whitkirk – Trinity 1
Here is my collection of children’s bibles…I’m rather proud of it!
How do you think they tackle today’s gospel story ‘Jesus heals the demoniac?
The answer is – they don’t. It’s in 3 of the 4 gospels, but only one of these children’s bibles. I wonder why?
I suppose because it’s weird…there’s a possessed man – naked and living in a graveyard; there are talking demons; there are a lot of dead pigs; there are people who see a man miraculously healed yet can’t get rid of Jesus quickly enough. It’s hard to know what to make of it.
I must have come across it somewhere as a child though, because I can remember very clearly thinking, ‘But what about the pigs?’ Ok, the man is healed…but what about all those innocent pigs?
Now I might ask ‘But what about the swineherds?’ Their entire livelihood destroyed – it’s not surprising they wanted rid of Jesus.
So what to make of this story – apart from thinking that preaching on Trinity Sunday might not have been so bad after all…!
You can start with bible commentaries, and they all seem to find ways of taming the story…
…most concentrate on the man who’s healed, sliding neatly over the pigs, to comment briefly on the lack of faith among the locals.
…others look for symbolism…the man’s name ‘legion’ refers to the hated Roman legions, the occupying forces. The business with pigs rushing into the sea is a metaphor for what Jews wanted to do to the Romans.
…or it’s all about clean and unclean things…graveyards were unclean…the possessed man was unclean…to the Jews a herd of unclean pigs was the best place for the demons…everything made clean at once…hurray!
Well they’re all much more learned than me…but I can’t help wondering whether they’re trying to sanitise the story…hanging on to a nice, safe ‘Jesus the healer’. I think maybe it’s good to be left asking ‘but what about the pigs?’
It seems to me that this story is about ‘Jesus the disturber’. Jesus who – if we really follow him – turns lives and societies upside down.
He could have come – healed the man – and gone on his way. But perhaps there were other things that needed changing. After all here’s a society dealing with a mentally ill man by chaining him in a graveyard. Maybe Jesus can’t help disrupting such a system merely by his presence.
I don’t suppose the pig owners were especially evil, I don’t understand the stuff with the pigs…but it seems to say that accepting Jesus’ healing has a ripple effect. I can imagine the locals coming to see…looking at the man ‘clothed and in his right mind’…longing perhaps for that sort of healing…tempted to invite Jesus in…
But then, looking at the pigs…realising that accepting Jesus and his message was going to disturb their whole society. And finally deciding they can’t make the leap, they prefer the safety of things as they are…they aren’t willing to take the risk.
It’s a thing about humans isn’t it…on the whole we like things to stay as they are. We might well know things are wrong, but we fear solutions that will change our lives.
This story puts me in mind of the debate around climate change today. Almost all of us accept that climate change is the biggest danger facing the world at the moment. When David Attenborough is telling us it’s time to act – we know in our hearts that it’s true.
So the Prime Minister recently announced that net greenhouse gas emissions in Britain will be cut to zero by 2050, and almost straight away we start talking of the 3 trillion pound cost…of money coming from schools, hospitals, the police…of the disruption to our lives such a target will mean.
And like the people in the reading – we look at what we have – and it doesn’t look so bad. We think a few tweaks here and there might be better – banning plastic straws say…and when people come suggesting a much more dramatic change…we ask them politely to go away. We don’t like being disturbed.
I suppose it’s not surprising I’m thinking about ‘Jesus the disturber’ as I approach the end of my curacy…following him has uprooted me from one career, and as I look around for a job, will soon uproot my family and me again.
But this story seems to say it’s not just about personal changes. When Jesus came to town and healed one man, the ripples were immediately felt. Jesus’ message isn’t just about individuals – it’s about changing societies.
The only children’s bible that tackles this story is the Brick Bible – illustrations all in Lego. It doesn’t attempt any explanation – but has a fantastic picture of the townsfolk all peering over the cliff…and I can just see them thinking ‘but what about the pigs?’
I guess they never found out – because they asked Jesus to leave. But it’s a great reminder to us that if we truly invite Jesus in, he will disturb us…and the ripples will spread. That suggests a church shouldn’t exist in a neighbourhood without anyone noticing – we should be letting Jesus the disturber work in us and through us.
This morning David has offered us a chance to do just that. Take a load of flyers around your street; take some mission brochures and personally invite a friend who doesn’t know the good news of Jesus Christ.
Let’s not be like those people left asking ‘but what about the pigs?’ Let’s invite Jesus in – trusting that whatever disturbance he brings – however scary it feels – it will be, as it was for the possessed man, about finding our true identities and being healed.