The Gerasenes Demoniac – Br. Jack Crowley 

Br. Jack Crowley headshot

Br. Jack Crowley

Luke 8:26-39 

Our Gospel this morning is a crazy story. It has stampeding pigs drowning in a lake, a crazy naked guy, demons negotiating with Jesus, and finally a city full of people asking Jesus to leave. If listening to all this makes you feel all over the place, you are not alone.

Things get weird right from the beginning. Jesus has just traveled by boat to a city called Gerasenes. As soon as he steps off the boat, Jesus is confronted by a crazy man wearing no clothes.

Think about how strange this would be from Jesus’ perspective. Imagine if you took a ferry to a seaside city and as soon as you got off the boat, some naked stranger started yelling at you on the dock. That would be weird.

Then things get more serious, this naked man confronting Jesus was not some random streaker. The Gospel writer tells us that this naked man was possessed by demons. These demons were so strong and violent that the people of the city tried to keep the man bound in shackles and chains. The demons, however, were able to break through the restraints and drove this sick man into the wilderness to live among the tombs outside the city.

So, if you were Jesus, and had this crazy naked guy yelling at you, what would you do? Would you get back on the boat and sail back home? Would you throw up your hands and say I just can’t deal with this today? 

Jesus doesn’t do either of these things. Jesus heals. Jesus is a healer. Jesus heals no matter how crazy the situation is. This naked demon possessed man is no exception.

How does Jesus do it? How does he heal this crazy guy and save the day? First, Jesus starts with a radically simple act. He talks to the man. Jesus asks the man a very simple question. What is your name? This is simultaneously simple and profound. Notice Jesus does not start the conversation by asking the men hey what is wrong with you or where are your clothes? No, Jesus starts the healing process by first acknowledging the man beneath the demons, not the other way around. Jesus is establishing a connection with this sick man in order to heal him.

All too often we make the mistake of doing the opposite of what Jesus did with this sick man. We identify someone first and foremost with their demons. As soon as we do so, all we see are their demons. We see only the things that they do wrong. We become blind to the person beneath those demons and, more importantly, we forget that that person is sick and hurt. They are sick and hurt and probably crying out for help. Like the sick naked man, these cries for help may not be verbal, they may take the form of self-destruction, isolation, and instability. These are all symptoms of a greater illness that needs healing.

All too often we also make the same mistake with ourselves. We identify ourselves solely with our demons, with our shortcomings, with the wrongs we’ve done in the past. We obsess over these negative parts of our lives and lose sight of who we really are beneath our shortcomings. It is really easy to be hard on ourselves. It is so easy and so tempting to pay attention only to the demons inside of ourselves and forget about all the good we have done and are. Through Jesus’ radically simple act of asking the man what his name was, Jesus reminds us that we are not our demons.

We are not our demons, but this does not mean that demons do not have to be dealt with. Demons do not go away by themselves. There is absolutely work to be done. Jesus knows this and after acknowledging the humanity of this demon possessed man, Jesus moves on and deals directly with the man’s demons. This is important. Jesus does not ignore that something is wrong here. Jesus is not pretending that everything is ok. These demons are real. The pain they are causing to the man and everyone around him is real. They need to be dealt with.

We are told by the Gospel writer that these demons begged Jesus not to be cast into the abyss. This demonstrates the raw healing power of Jesus. Even these awful demons knew they were at the mercy of Jesus. Jesus instead gives the demons permission to leave the man and enter a large herd of swine that were feeding on a hillside. As soon as these demons entered the herd of swine, the swine all stampeded down a hill, fell into a lake and drowned.

If that part of the story leaves you feeling distressed, again you are not alone. A herd of swine drowning themselves in a stampede is a nasty image, but in dealing with demons, things are going to get nasty. It is not going to be pretty.

Think of the times in your own life when you have confronted your own demons. Was it ever clean? Was it ever quick? Was it ever easy? If your experience has been anything like mine, the answer is no, absolutely not. Like the herd of swine stampeding downhill to their death, dealing with demons is chaotic, messy, and loud.

We need all the help we can get when dealing with our own demons. Jesus is right there with us in our fight. Jesus is right there with us no matter how crazy we think we have gotten or how out of control our lives have become. No situation is beyond the power of Jesus’ healing. We may think that the circumstances of our life are so unique and crazy that healing is not possible. Jesus’ actions assure us that this is not true. Healing is always possible.

The Gospel writer tells us that when the demons left the naked man, he was soon sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. The man went from naked and crazy to fully dressed and sane. That’s the power of Jesus for you.

Personally, I find this one of the most beautiful images in the Gospels. This once crazy man, who was a danger to himself and others, now sitting still, full of peace, next to the Son of God. I try to imagine how this man felt, finally healed, and looking forward to the rest of life.

You’ve probably experienced something like that in your own life. That feeling of calm after a storm. It’s like a benevolent hangover. It’s one of the best feelings in the world, but it does not come cheaply.

The healing of our own personal demons takes work, grace, and time. There will be tears, there will be frustration, and there will be setbacks; but there will also be glory. Glory that is full of joy and genuine love. Glory in knowing we are going to get through this and come out the other side stronger than ever. That is the hope of Jesus Christ the Son of God who came here to heal this crazy world. Amen.

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17 Comments

  1. Gary Denniss on January 5, 2024 at 23:12

    Dear Brother, thank you for the expository explanation of this rather misunderstood part of Jesus’ ministry of healing. I appreciate the insights you have shared.

  2. WILLIAM E BROOKS on January 4, 2024 at 22:37

    Thank you for reminding but also inviting the Light to come into our personal madness and darkend atmospheres. This is central to Jesus being Emaanuel that is
    ” with us”

  3. Phyllis on January 4, 2024 at 10:50

    The responses to this wonderful take on healing in this sermon helps to confirm the biggest human need most or all have at some level. It isn’t a surprise to me because my need for healing was one of the first needs I recognized and sought after my conversion to Christianity.. I realized I needed healing and trusted that Jesus was the answer and the healing came–with all the difficulties you mention in this profound sermon.
    Thanks be to God.

  4. George E. Hilty on June 26, 2023 at 19:22

    Elegantly and powerfully explained. Though asking the man’s name, Jesus does not ask him what the man wants Him to do, as He often does before healing. When slavery to a demon is apparent, He knows that the independent soul of the person cannot respond. Is there a lesson for us in how we approach and treat those who have become enslaved to some substance as apparently is the case for the overwhelming majority of our homeless?

  5. Rev Dr Melinda Contreras-Byrd on June 26, 2023 at 12:14

    Your words have helped to inform
    my preaching and teaching. I will pass this
    Reflection on when I teach or preach so
    that others can experience the full wisdom
    of your teaching.
    I thank God for you and all the SJE brothers
    who unknowingly continue to enrich the
    Black & Latinx communities to whom
    I’m called to minister. Bendiciones

  6. Boyd on June 26, 2023 at 10:36

    Thank you for this message. It hit home today.

  7. anna zilboorg on June 26, 2023 at 09:09

    Fine sermon, Br Jack. Now give us one on healing the crazy man in front of us. Do we have to run away because we are not pure like Jesus? I rather think not, though I’d like to see you make the case.

    • Carolyn Moreau on June 27, 2023 at 11:50

      Best sermon I’ve heard on this passage. Thank you!

  8. Marynelle losin on June 26, 2023 at 08:52

    Thank you, Brother Jack, for this beautiful and Hopeful message! Bless you! Marynelle

  9. Reed Saunders on June 26, 2023 at 08:13

    Excellent!

  10. Cynthia on June 26, 2023 at 07:03

    This snippet from today’s email led me here to read the entire sermon.
    This is the Word of the Lord for me today:
    “We identify someone first and foremost with their demons. As soon as we do so, all we see are their demons. We see only the things that they do wrong. We become blind to the person beneath those demons, and, more importantly, we forget that that person is sick and hurt. They are sick and hurt and probably crying out for help. Like the sick, naked man, these cries for help may not be verbal; they may take the form of self-destruction, isolation, and instability. These are all symptoms of a greater illness that needs healing.”
    Thank you.

  11. John on January 3, 2023 at 11:45

    Br. Jack, thank you for this insightful and compassionate meditation on one of my favorite moments in Jesus’s public ministry.

  12. Mariann Budde on January 3, 2023 at 08:33

    A sermon of depth, insightful approach to the text, and tremendous help.

    Thank you

  13. Jan on January 3, 2023 at 07:08

    Thank you, Br Jack….your sermon makes this verse relatable to me. Lovely vision of the man at the feet of Jesus after his healing.

    • Susan Kuhn on January 3, 2023 at 08:39

      I felt like I’ve been wandering around seeking the next step, and here, happening to read your sermon this week, the healing I’ve sought is immediately present. Thank you.

  14. Ann Trousdale on January 3, 2023 at 06:55

    What a powerful unpacking of this story. Thank you, Brother Jack, for bringing it from a truth I recognize out there to a truth I recognize in here.

    What goes through my mind is that Jesus follows this healing with the healing of the woman with the flow of blood. Two very different sources of pain for the person, two very different ways in which the afflicted person was an outcast whom
    Jesus brought back into community.

    How can you not fall in love with this wonderful Savior?

  15. Kenneth J Meyers on January 3, 2023 at 06:18

    The practicality of this approach to this passage is stunning. Thank you for the laser focus on text, on trouble, and finally on treatment.

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