Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
When Jesus stepped off the boat it wasn’t after a nice weekend cruise. The boat he stepped off of had just been in a terrible storm. The storm had rocked the boat and scared the disciples out of their minds all while Jesus slept. The storm was on the verge of sinking the boat and the disciples finally woke Jesus up and then Jesus commanded the water and the wind to stop and they did.
That was the boat Jesus stepped off of into that Gentile land. That is what the disciples had just seen and now they were seeing yet another amazing thing. A man possessed by demons; lots of demons it turns out. They called themselves “Legion” and a Roman legion was 6000 men so that’s gotta be a lot of demons! The man didn’t wear cloths, he lived in the tombs among the dead bodies, he was a gentile, and... on top of that, oh yeah, he had demons…lots of demons. From the Jewish point of view this was way more than three strikes; any one of those things; no cloths, dead bodies, being a gentile... not to mention the 6000 demons was enough to make him unclean. Unable to have a relationship with God.
Jesus changed all that. Simply with his presence, Jesus intimidated 6000 demons to beg for a transfer to the pigs on the hillside and then Jesus let them go. (As a side note: This of course was the first time anyone ever made deviled ham.) The pigs then proceeded to run down the hill and like lemmings they ran off the cliff and into the sea and drown. Everyone was amazed. The disciples had just seen Jesus quiet a storm and now they saw him have power over a legion of demons. Where did this man’s power end? Could it end? If that is what Jesus could do to the wind and the sea and to demons, what could Jesus do to me?
That last question, “what could Jesus do to me” is the question that seized all those pig farmers and people of Gerascene with a great fear. Jesus’ presence had already affected the people in a way they could not have liked too much. While Jesus’ presence had cured the town demoniac and made the cemetery safe again, his presence had also just washed out Hog futures for the town. The pork belly market sank in an instant. The people of that town had seen their hard earned bacon drown and Jesus was the one who made it all happen.
The bottom line fact of the matter is that the presence of Jesus came with a price. The presence of Jesus transformed the world in which these people lived. People’s lives were different now that Jesus was here and in the end the people made a decision and they decided that they just didn’t want their lives to be that different. They didn’t want Jesus and his presence transforming things. Today it was a demoniac cured and that was nice, but look at the cost; look what they had to give up. Tomorrow who would be transformed by Jesus, and what would be the cost then? It could be someone in my family, it could even be me, but then what would that cost me? How would Jesus transform me?
In the end, the fear of being transformed by Jesus and the fear of what that would mean and how much that would cost scared the people so much that they asked Jesus to leave. They didn’t want Jesus’ transforming presence around anymore. I don’t believe Jesus loved them any less after they made that choice. He certainly didn’t give up on them. He sent the healed man back to be with them and to keep working with them after all. It’s just that for that moment, the cost of being changed by Jesus was higher than the people were willing to pay.
That ends up being the hard question this lesson asks of us today; Is the cost of being transformed by Jesus higher than we are willing to pay? We may believe that Jesus is around. We may even see God at work in this amazing world. But are we as individuals and us together as a church ready and willing to let him work in us? Are we willing to allow Jesus to heal those who are broken in this world even if that means loosing everything we have? Are you willing to have everything you have worked for, everything that you have been given, all the privilege, all the wealth, all the trappings of your life, all that you believe will secure your future run down the hill and jump into the lake so that just one other human being can be clothed and given his right mind? We have so, so much and because we have so very, very much it makes it so very, very hard to let it go, to let Jesus transform our lives.
It’s no wonder those people were afraid. It’s no wonder the people didn’t want Jesus around anymore. There is, as Deitrich Bonhoeffer said, a cost to discipleship; a cost to having Jesus around. That cost is more than just giving an hour on Sunday morning. It is more than throwing a few dollars in the plate. It is more than volunteering for a couple of things at church. Those things are good... just not the whole cost.
The whole cost of discipleship, the cost of having Jesus’ transforming presence in our lives is our willingness to loose it all. All of it; to have everything you have, everything simply run down the hill and jump into the sea. This is not just giving up the optional stuff or the extravagance. The cost of discipleship means giving up everything…giving up your life. When Christ calls us to discipleship, says Bonhoeffer, he calls us to come and die. Die to ourselves, die to our stuff, die to our greed, die to our need for control, die to insisting on things being done my way, die to our desire for more and more and more… we are called to die to all of our demons for only then can we be clothed in Christ, put in our right minds and receive the gracious gift of true and real and everlasting life that God wants for us all. Bonhoeffer reminds us that discipleship is costly because it demands everything and at the same time discipleship is filled with grace because it leads us to the only kind of life that is a real life; one filled with meaning, purpose and worth... a life that makes a difference in the world.
I don’t really know you or your town so all I can do is leave you with some hard questions to wonder about. They are the same questions I struggle with myself so you are far from being alone. What is the thing in your town that causes a legion of trouble for the weakest and most vulnerable of your neighbors? Are you ready to invite Jesus to stay for a while here in your town? Are you ready to have him use your hands and minds and resources to send that legion of trouble off the nearest cliff? Are you willing and ready to pay the price of having Jesus around? Are you ready for discipleship? Amen.