“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” Luke 8:39
The word “mind” appears in saint Luke Chapter 8 Verse 35, the word provides us with an acrostic to think about four words from the Gospel reading: “M” for “man;” “I” for “I;” “N” for “not;” and “D” for “done.”
Saint Luke Chapter 8 Verse 27 tells us that as Jesus stepped out of the boat onto the land, “a man of the city who had demons met him.” A “man”, he is not given a name, he is not even given his father’s name. He has no individual identity of his own. Many people would have regarded the man’s being responsible for his own condition. They believed very firmly in the teachings found in the book of Deuteronomy that if people obeyed God, if people kept the rules, then people would receive abundant blessings. If the man “had demons”, then he must have done something to deserve it. If we read Saint John Chapter 9, we see the logic being applied, Jesus meets a man who has been born blind and the disciples ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” In that chapter, Jesus rejects the old teaching, in Saint John Chapter 9 Verse 3, he says, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” The working of God’s hand will also be revealed in the man. The man has been pushed out to the edge of society for years, when Jesus comes, he sees a chance to be accepted, he sees a chance for freedom.
What does the story of the “man” say to us? Do we sometimes treat people the way the people of Jesus’ time treated the man? Do we behave as though they had no individual identity, no personality of their own? Are we happy to see people who trouble us just as labels? What people do we see living their lives out on the edge? What people do we ignore?
“M” for “man,” the second letter is simply “I.” In Saint Luke Chapter 8 Verse 28, the man says, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” Who is the “I” that is speaking? Whether the explanation we prefer is the one offered by modern psychiatry, and the man is suffering a personality disorder, or we accept the traditional understanding of the story, and the man is dominated by evil spirits, the “I” who shouts at Jesus is not the man in his right mind. The man’s personality and his life have been taken over by something that is not himself, something that does not want to let go of control of him. The man’s life has become about serving what controls him.
Thinking about the Gospel story, we might ask what controls our own lives. When we say “I”, do we speak for our whole self, or do we say one thing and think something else? When we come to church, do we say, “I believe,” and then during the rest of the week, does our life say “I believe” something different? The man’s personality is divided, whether through psychiatric illness or spiritual possession, he may not even himself know which “I” is the real one. In our own lives as Christians, do we know which is our true self?
“Man,” “I,” the third word is “not.” Verse 27 says, “he did not live in a house but in the tombs” and Verse 28 says, “do not torment me.” The thing that controls the man’s life, the thing that calls itself “Legion,” while destroying the man’s life, is concerned only with itself. The thing has driven the man out onto the edge of human existence, living not in a house like other people, but among the tombs of the dead. The thing drives the man into a savage existence. Verse 29 says, “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.” While not caring about the destruction of the man, Legion wishes to avoid the destruction of itself. We read in Verse 28, it says, “do not torment me.” It is afraid, because, says Verse 29, Jesus, “had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man.” The thing controlling the man’s life is concerned only with its own self-preservation.
If we look around us, don’t we see people’s lives being controlled by things that are destroying those lives? Jesus talks about money as “Mammon,” something spiritual that is opposed to God, something that people serve: how many lives are controlled by Mammon? How many lives are lived out not for themselves, but in the service of gaining more and more money? Look at the destruction wrought in the life of the man by Legion, and ask if the many addictions of our times aren’t just as bad in their effects? How often are people driven from normal life by the compulsive spirit that serves addiction?
“Man,” “I,” “not,” the final word is “done.” In Verses 38-39, we read, “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.” What has Jesus done? He has given the man back his life, he has freed the man from the things that had enslaved the man, he has given the man a new start. But giving the man his freedom, giving the man a new life, is troubling for the people. In Verse 35, it says, “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.” They have seen what Jesus has done, and they are afraid, Verse 37 says, “Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.” Jesus has done a great thing and the people’s reaction is to be afraid.
The Christian Gospel is about what Jesus has done for us, freeing us from the sin that trapped us and giving us a new life; like the people who were afraid at what Jesus had done for the man, we may react with fear at what Jesus has done for us. The people ask Jesus to go away; regardless of what he had done, they thought he was troublesome. Is that our response, as well? Do we prefer to turn away and live as if nothing has happened?
Mind: man, I, not, done. What is the story saying to us?