Galatians 3:23-29 GNT
23 But before the time for faith came, the Law kept us all locked up as prisoners until this coming faith should be revealed. 24 And so the Law was in charge of us until Christ came, in order that we might then be put right with God through faith. 25 Now that the time for faith is here, the Law is no longer in charge of us.
26 It is through faith that all of you are God’s children in union with Christ Jesus. 27 You were baptized into union with Christ, and now you are clothed, so to speak, with the life of Christ himself. 28 So there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, between slaves and free people, between men and women; you are all one in union with Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are the descendants of Abraham and will receive what God has promised.
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.
Just last week Notre Dame Cathedral was opened in Paris again for a worship service.
With a major fire happening two months ago, there was major damage to the cathedral with some estimates of repairs reaching the billion-dollar level.
The worshippers and worship leaders all were wearing hard hats as they processed into the sanctuary for the service and as the camera panned up, you could see the damage and the open roof and the sky.
It may take many years to complete the renovations.
This is not the first time the historic church has needed renovations.
The building was started in 1163 CE and was finished almost 200 years later.
Around 1830, the building was in disrepair, which let the French novelist Victor Hugo to write a novel, in which the cathedral played a major part. The success of the novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame led to a revival of Gothic architecture and the preservation of Gothic Architecture, and indeed major repairs to Notre Dame Cathedral itself.
The plot of the novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” revolves around the three main characters. The first is the 20 year old hunchback Quasimodo who is hideous and hardly leaves the confines of the cathedral because he is feared and hated for his ugliness, who falls in love with a beautiful gypsy Esmerelda, and tries to protect her.
The second character is Esmerelda the young and beautiful gypsy woman, who is popular with the crowds as she entertains them. She is kind and compassionate and the only person in the book to show kindness and compassion to Quasimodo.
The third character is Archdeacon Claude Frollo who is Quasimodo’s guardian, but a man who is obviously evil, who lusts after Esmerelda, who lies, and schemes to hurt people. He uses Quasimodo and is not particularly nice to Quasimodo. He tries to kidnap Esmerelda, and later when she refuses his advances, he accuses her of an attempted murder that he himself had perpetrated.
There is a tragic end to the original story where Frollo has Esmerelda hanged, and while he is standing high atop the walls laughing as she is being hanged, Quasimodo pushes Frollo off the walls to his death. Then Quasimodo goes to the cemetery and stays with the dead body of Esmerelda until he starves to death.
What interests me today is how people are scapegoated and how in the story of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, both Quasimodo and Esmerelda at times are scapegoated.
Quasimodo because of his looks and his hunchback is feared and hated. One time he is put in the pillory and people throw things at him and make fun of him and he could have died there if Esmerelda didn’t give him some water.
And later gossip is told about Esmerelda and she is accused of being a witch, and the crowds who adored her turn on her, and then she is falsely accused and falsely executed.
Scapegoating is the process by which uncomfortable feelings in individuals and/or groups of people, such as anger, frustration, envy, guilt, insecurity or shame are displaced and redirected onto another, usually someone who is vulnerable or a minority or alone…
The Scapegoaters get angry at this person, blame and shame the person, and so the negative feelings are overtaken by feelings or self-righteousness or superiority and an affirmation of self.
It is one of the most common ways of a group finding unity. Finding a common enemy to blame and shame and scapegoat. It is artificial and temporary, but it is used by politicians and nations all the time.
In the cartoon movie “South Park” there is a song called “Blame Canada, where the parents of some children sing about blaming Canada for their children’s bad behavior, because the kids had watched a Canadian television show.
The song is a spoof about scapegoating and ends with the lines:
We must blame them and cause a fuss. Before somebody thinks of blaming us!
Those last lines are what scapegoating is all about. Blaming other, getting angry at others, because inside the scapegoaters know that they are not that good themselves, or that they really are the ones at fault.
The actual term scapegoat comes from the Old Testament. In the Book of Leviticus Moses and Aaron are instructed to get two goats. The first goat is killed and its blood is sprinkled upon the altar.
The High Priest lays his hands on the second goat and confesses the sins of the people. This second goat is set free to wander in the wilderness with its burden of sin.
So, it is like an escape goat. The goat escapes, so to speak, taking the sins away with it.
And so, when it comes to Jesus, there is confusion as to Jesus’ role. John the Baptist said of Jesus: Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
And while a lamb is not a goat, some think that Jesus is like that goat that is killed for the sins of the people. Some think that Jesus is like the scapegoat and wanders into the wilderness of death carrying all our sins with him.
May I remind you that these are highly symbolic images and it is easy to take them too literally.
But I do want to talk more about the mechanism of scapegoating because that is what is at play here with the story of the man of the Gadarenes or Gerasenes. Those are two different names for the same thing. Gadara and Gerasa were two cities in the area, one sort of the provincial capital and the other like the county capital. Don’t get hung up on it.
The so-called demon-possessed man is running around naked and seems to have lots of strength, he is bound in chains, and is condemned to live in a graveyard among the tombs. He sometimes is so strong he breaks his chains and has violent episodes.
And on the basis of it, Jesus heals this man and sets him free from the demon or the demons who live in this man.
Except did you ever see a demon-possessed person running around naked and screaming like a banshee with superhuman strength.
I haven’t, and I have seen some pretty crazy things. I have seen people in this city on our streets screaming, and out of control and not in their right mind. But it was either drugs, alcohol or mental illness.
This is much more that a person with mental illness being healed by Jesus.
And I don’t think it is really a demon possession like the movie “The Exorcist.”
The story take place in the land of the Gerasenes, which is not Jewish land. Jesus has gone to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, to the Gentile side of Galilee. He is ministering in an area that is unclean to Jews, ministering to a people who are unclean to the Jews. That theme will come back to us.
There is a lot going on. The first thing to note is that this is a classic scapegoating.
We do not really know what is going on with the person, whether he is epileptic, has cerebral palsy, has some kind of mental disability, paranoid schizophrenia, multiple personality, Tourette’s, or on the Autism spectrum.
What we do know is that whatever he had, the people had blamed him, said he was demon possessed, isolated him, restrained him and avoided him.
And that is classic scapegoating. And we all do it, and all societies do it. We point to others who have greater problems than ourselves as a way to ease the guilt, or frustration, or anger, or envy, or shame, or insecurity.
Sometimes for some people and communities they need those people to blame, to shame, to hold their community together.
Sometime it is minorities, sometimes Indigenous peoples, sometimes it is those in the LGBTQI community. Sometimes it has been women and children. Sometime it is entire faiths, or cultures or countries. Examples have been Muslims, or Black Culture or North Korea.
Sometime we need the demoniac, we need that demon-possessed person so we can feel good about ourselves.
We like to tell ourselves that we are not him or we are not her. We say things like
Can you believe what he did, or she did?
Well I never. I am glad I brought up my kids to know better than this.
And we look at the big loser and psychologically pat ourselves on the back.
And yet the truth is that we are no better. We are all sinful and sometimes the people we have the strongest reactions to, are the ones that we are like, and we share the same weaknesses.
And when Jesus comes to this place the man calls out to Jesus.
What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?
That is an amazing insight. The one everybody think is bad and crazy and demon possessed can recognize the divinity of Christ. What is divinity? It is love. God is love.
The victim can recognize that Jesus is not here to scapegoat him, but to love him, to recognize him as a human, a child of God, to accept him and help him.
James Alison, a Roman Catholic theologian, who applies René Girard’s theories to theology, says that this is the intelligence of the victim.
The victims, or those marginalized, or those who are scapegoated, have a different vantage point. They see the world very differently than those of the oppressors. They actually have an intelligence and a voice that needs to be heard, but when they are scapegoated they are written off as valueless and not listened to, or dismissed.
I once heard a sermon by the Rev. Mark Chiang, who used to do youth work hear and is minister at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church Edmonton. He was preaching about Jacob and Esau and Mark, as a gay man said that he identified with the feminine Jacob, who like to cook with his mom, instead of the masculine, rough Esau.
I had never thought of the story in those terms and Mark’s perspective as a gay man, helped me see scripture in a new way that day.
So, the scapegoat recognizes Jesus. And he recognizes the point of this sermon. Jesus does not demonize people. Humans demonize people.
Humans create the demons in the world.
Jesus asks for a name.
My name is Legion.
Interesting name. Today we use the word Legion to mean many. And in a sense the demon inside that man was Legion. It was the many people who had demonized him, cut him off, treated him has worthless, oppressed him, bound him, banished him to a cemetery, written him off, gossiped about him, told stories about him, made jokes about him…
The demon was not something from the Exorcist. The demon was the people who had demonized him.
Yet, the word Legion in that day and age was well known as a group of about 6000 Roman Soldiers, a formidable fighting force. This is a political statement to make. When the demon seizes the man it is like a brutal occupying force…
And Jesus freeing the man from the demon is talking about not just inner forces that brutalize us, but also external forces that brutalize us and hold us captive…like Laws and cultures and dictators, religions, governments, public opinion, armies, and those who use violence, threats, coercion and force.
Sometimes people are so brutalized and alienated that they harm themselves as this man did. They cut themselves or practice harmful behaviours, get addicted to substances, or attempt or commit suicide.
They are so alienated and demonized that they begin to believe they are demons and that they are demon-possessed and are worthless.
And so, Jesus sends the demons into the pigs. It is symbolic.
As Jesus would say one time about what makes a person clean or unclean, is not whether you eat pork or not, not your diet, not your clothes, not how much you bathe, not your religion or your faith, but what is in your heart.
Jesus sends the demons into the pigs, who are considered unclean, because what is unclean is when we demonize others. When we exclude others, when we point the fingers and blame and shame. When we treat others as useless and valueless.
Jesus doesn’t demonize. We humans demonize. We create the demons in this world.
And this is so difficult for us. It is difficult for me. For it is our natural inclination to demonize.
You see there are bad people. There is evil in the world. There are things that should be denounced. We have to fight for justice and against injustice.
But the way to do that is not to demonize people, but to do it with love, kindness, compassion, education, healing and forgiveness.
In debates and discussions that the Presbyterian Church has had over a number of years about human sexuality and the place of gays and lesbians in the church, it has been easy for those on either side of the debate to demonize the others.
Some on the inclusive side accuses the other side of injustice and hate.
Some on the traditional side accuses the other side of not following scripture.
And instead of seeing each other as brother and sister who are trying to follow Jesus, there are those who see the other as enemy and demonize those others.
I myself have been caught up in that at times. So easy to point fingers and blame, instead of working together, or accepting that there are differences.
And recently I found that there was a particular person whom I judged because of his race and culture. I just assumed that because of his ethnicity he was like others I knew in the same culture. He was not. He was very different and I quite liked him when I got to know him.
And I realized that I had been racist. I had been racist to judge him based on his ethnicity.
And then I realized that I was racist because I was judging a particular culture, because a bunch of people from that culture do not think the way I do.
God forgive me.
It is so easy to demonize others.
We are the ones who create the demons in this world.
And yet Jesus comes to free us. Free us from demonizing people. Free us from the powers that try to alienate us and demonize us. Free us from economic, political and military forces that create poverty, create homelessness, spread propaganda, alienate people, separate people from one another, create division, sow seeds of hate and hostility.
Jesus comes to love people and when we love people and accept them, when we forgive them and heal them, when we listen to them and value them, we help people to right minds.
Love clothes people who are naked and vulnerable and victims.
It clothes them with community, with family, with a safe place and it puts people right.
And nothing scares the demonizers in this world as much as people clothed in love, clothed in truth, and in their right minds.
Because if the demonizers have nobody to demonize, then they actually have to deal with their own inner demons.
And that is scary…
That is scary when you have to deal with your own demons….unless you have Jesus.