Fear dominates this passage. Fear had driven this demoniac
away from ‘normal’ society and to take up residence alone where others
would not come, the tombs. Fear kept others away, fear of
different. Fear of someone who lived by other rules, fear
who didn’t observe the normal and universally accepted conventions for
living. The demons that assailed the man feared the power of
knowing full well that Jesus could indeed cast them out and even had
power to determine where they might go. The man was full of
expecting to be tormented further by Jesus. The swineherds
fearful too for they had lost their swine and, more than likely, their
livelihood as well. The people who came out to see what had
were afraid. The account tells us that when they were told
happened they were seized with great fear. And in all
cured man was also afraid to go back to his home and family, fearing
their reaction. He knew that this family had no reason to
So much fear that we can conclude that it was not just the man who
initially had the demons who was tormented. It seemed most
lived lives tormented by fear - and this was and is nothing new -
certainly I live a life determined (if not actually tormented) by fear.
And so often we ascribe this fear to God. One of the
phrases in the book of Proverbs is: ‘The fear of the Lord is the
beginning of wisdom’. Those who have mental delusions
ascribe them to
the divine. Suddenly we see that we are not all that
Perhaps we may usually manage to live life by those universally
accepted conventions, but that does not mean that we live life in all
it’s fullness, for I certainly haven’t.
And traditional religion is powerless against such fear, for the only
weapon traditional religion has is fear itself, so it only compounds
the problem. Of course, traditional religion based on fear,
have caused the problem in the first place. I certainly
people whose lives have been thoroughly blighted by their devotion to
What then is the antidote to such fear? It doesn’t take a
scientist to give the answer - it is love. How sad and
telling it is
to have to write that traditional religion is based on
fear. How the
words of Jesus about love seemed to have been bypassed.
Last week I spoke about love being between two equals.
There can be
no power imbalance between people who love one another.
This is as
true between human beings as it is between the divine and
Jesus reminds his detractors: "Is it not written in your law, 'I said,
you are gods'?” John 10.34. So somehow we have to
differences between ourselves and others. And already in
I have suggested some ways to do this.
The first way is to acknowledge that each of us live with
have always been a shy and retiring person, and I have only been able
to extricate myself from this demon by realising that everyone else is
as shy and retiring, but others have found more effective ways of
hiding their shyness.
And the second way is to realise that many, many people do not live
according to our conventions of life, and to not be worried about
this. Of course, some of the greatest geniuses in the world
so precisely because of their eccentricity. These geniuses
benefited humanity enormously.
And the third way is to recognise our equality with others.
are no better than others - for all our seeming ‘normality’.
Equality, freedom and acceptance are the keys to healing of demons,
including the demons of fear. We know the truth of this in
lives. It really doesn’t surprise us.
Certainly it seems Jesus was able to convey these uniquely, so that
their impact was rather more immediate than ever we could
And there is another key, for is not just acceptance by God that is
important, but acceptance by society that is equally
man was sent back to his home and family, because we all need to live
in society. There is precious little use having Jesus love
at some stage I have to leave the hallowed surroundings about Jesus and
return to what passes for normality. This man was sent home
Jesus doesn’t want 5 billion people who profess to love him but 5
billion people who love one another.
It is also helpful to me to realise the fact that the book of Wisdom
commends fear, yet John reminds us that perfect love casts out
‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.’ 1
4.18 It is impossible to reconcile these two outlooks on
religious life. They both derive from the same sacred
text. And if
our scripture shows us two equally valid but different ways of
approaching the religious life, surely we are encouraged to seek our
own way of approaching the religious life, to value our own spiritual
journey and to recognise the validity of other peoples’ approach to the
religious life and value their journeys.
At the end of the journey towards Jerusalem, the disciples faithfully
following Jesus, for one year or perhaps three, come together, finally,
to the upper room, and what does Jesus do? According to
washes the disciples feet. For me Jesus, thereby
journey each of the disciples had made to come to that
acknowledges the hardships they have suffered, the deprivations, the
fears. Jesus acknowledges that the road has been hard, and
their feet with warm water to ease away their tiredness. I
he didn’t use cold water to wake them up or hot water to scald
It was not about cleanliness, for if that was the case he would have
washed their hands. The road had been hard, the journey
took so long.
The pilgrimage that each of them had made, while superficially might
have been the same geographically, was different for them
spiritually. For Simon and Andrew it meant leaving regular
as fisher-persons, Matthew left the hated job of the tax gatherer,
James and John left their normal occupations and their political
zealotry. They all had to learn that following did not
and prestige. Some of these things were self inflicted,
accidents of birth, again others products of the society in which they
lived. And perhaps the mental illness of this demoniac was
other of these things, yet his path to God is accepted as everyone
Jesus doesn’t come to torment anyone, he comes to take away that which
torments us. And this is not necessarily something that is
As I listened to the gospel story being read this morning, the story of
the woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee, I was struck by the
physicality of her love. Simon’s faith was primarily
whereas the woman’s faith was expressed by gesture and
considered the intellect as clean and the physical as
considered the intellect as above sin, which concept perhaps we do well
to challenge. Not unsurprisingly Jesus warms to the woman’s
rather than Simon’s. And we speak of Jesus as the word made
this ought to guide us to a faith which is more than intellectual.
And I wonder if it is precisely here that we find the antidote to this
man’s demons, as well as our own. It was not something
but something physical that happened between Jesus and this demoniac,
analogous to the washing of the disciples’ feet. I note
that when the
people of the town came to Jesus, they found the man clothed - perhaps
for the first time in his life. If nothing else, Jesus
man, and this is certainly physical, not mental.
The healing of our fears will come not by intellectual assent to
particular doctrines (even the doctrine of transubstantiation) but
through the warmth of companionship and intimacy, which now must come
though our own physical presence and actions, not through Jesus’.
Fear causes divisions between people. Alienation, marginalisation
denominationalism are all products of fear and they serve only to
continue and exacerbate fear. Physical intimacy between
through all this, and it was precisely this that Jesus seemed so good
at, and good at with all people, even those afflicted with
Recently a number of people here in Christchurch, including myself,
thoroughly enjoyed a day with the Rev’d Professor Barbara Brown Taylor
and she was speaking about spiritual practice in ordinary
words made me wonder how we ‘naturally’ think of prayer (as primarily a
intellectual activity) as spiritual but not sexual intimacy (as
primarily a physical activity).
Jesus gives of himself in the physicality of the sacraments, and over
many years I can only accept this gift of himself, and try to give of
myself equally, as physically, to others for it is in this way that my
fears may finally be overcome as well as helping the fears of others