Sunday, June 24, 2007

A Man of the City

C Proper 7 RCL

A man of the city – this is how the gospel describes him: not “the Gerasene Demoniac”, not “the appendectomy in Ward 7a”, but a person in relationship to a community. Jesus goes on to ask him your name: he continues to approach the other person with respect, recognizing his human dignity. And when the man is restored to himself, sitting clothed and quiet with Jesus’ feet, Jesus tells him to stay and be a witness in his own community to what God has done for him.

The people of the region see him, and Jesus, as problems. They tried to restrain the man – and he broke free. Jesus strikes fear into their hearts – God can do anything, even restore a man possessed by demons to his right place in the community, perhaps even set everything to rights… with all the problems that would create for the powers that be and those who love them.

Go away, Jesus, you are doing too much good. A little good is enough. If you restore even the demoniacs to their right minds, won’t you also proclaim the year of the Lord and restore us all to our rightful inheritance? Won’t that involve giving up what we’ve gained in our modus vivendi, our accommodation, to Pontius Pilate and the Roman occupiers? To the collaborators in the Sanhedrin and their minions?

Am I going to lose valuable rental property because this guy, the rightful owner, is no longer a raving lunatic in the graveyard, but claiming his place in town?

And worse than that: Jesus did not take him away when he’s gone. The man is still here, still a living witness to the living God. God has done great things for him. And if you don’t watch out, it could happen to you too.

The apostle Paul reminds us that it is not just “a man of the city” who is in chains.

Before faith came, as he put it, we were in bondage ourselves, to sin. The law guarded us, but it was not until faith came – faith and justification by faith in Christ – that we were set free. Acting as a schoolmaster or disciplinarian, the law treated us like unruly children.

Law means the rules and rule-keeping that kept us from sin or self-destruction during a time of our own incapacity (due to sin), as the shackles were meant to keep the man of the city from injuring himself during a demoniac fit. Like him we too lived in tombs – tombs of self-construction, our own vices and habits, which kept us from living freely as people of the city of God.

Jesus called us out of slavery, out of Egypt, out of bondage to our own erroneous ways, into the new land of freedom and ourselves. He gave us the keys to the city – the city not built by human hands, the New Jerusalem, city of God.

When Jesus asked the man his name, he is continuing to address him with dignity. He is also asking, “What is your handle?” as names were powerful in those days and if you had hold of his name you could hold power over a man. His name could give you some power over him just by addressing him, just by knowing who he was.

The sad answer Jesus gets is “Legion” – the man of the city is beset by a host of troubles. Jesus clears them all out, as he cleared the moneychangers from the Temple. This temple of the Holy Spirit, the man’s body, is now restored to its rightful condition, and he is free to praise God.

Like the man who lived among the tombs we have been set free. We are now clothed as he was clothed by Christ, in Christ. We are not now different from one another, one free, one enslaved, one rich, another poor, one privileged, another beset with oppressions. We are all one in Christ Jesus, heirs of hope.

God could raise up sons and daughters to Abraham from the very stones, Jesus taught us. Instead, he has raised us. From among the gravestones he has called us to rise and live. From the tombs of unrighteousness and wrong he has called us out into new life. And we are to witness to him, here in this city, where we live and where we are known. Let us declare what God has done for us.

Proper 7 - Year C - RCL Psalm 43 Galatians 3:23-39 Luke 8:26-39

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