Dominion, then and now…


“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”…”   Luke 8:29-30

In the eighth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, there is an account of that takes place in a Roman outpost on the other side of the Sea of Galilee and Jewish Capernaum.    If we were to read the passage strictly from a literal perspective, it has all the makings of a solitary man being healed of mental illness.    And while the herdsmen, as well as townsfolk, are chagrined by this miraculous turn of events, it could be written off as a loss of economic benefit and mere disturbance of the peace.

Yet the language used to describe this incident, says otherwise.   Like Alice in Wonderland, where the heroine tumbles down a dark passage and into a non-sensical and wholly unpredictable underworld, Luke’s narrative uses subliminal language and imagery that harkens to an oppressive and ruthless political undertow just underneath. Such as with the word, Legion, a term used to describe the Roman Army.

While on the surface,  it was the man broke the fetters used to restrain him and escaped into the wild – who was the insane one – a deeper investigation shows another side of this story.   Dominion not only subjugates those who would challenge it; it also maligns and scapegoats them in order to avoid self-examination.  Cut off from the mainstream and ceremoniously unclean in the eyes of the Jewish population, writes Ched Meyers, “…we might say that the political body of this man, possessed by destructive demons, mirrored the body politic of militarily occupied Palestine.” [1]

Taunted by the demons, the Son of Man will have none of it.   Recognizing that He is not cowed, the unclean spirit pleads to be released into a herd of swine grazing nearby.    Charging down the mountain (another military term), and re-enacting the same fate that awaited the pursuing Egyptian army in Exodus, the possessed swine fall into the lake below and drown.    Released from bondage, the man is finally restored.

“Go home and tell the people what God has done for you,” Jesus tells the newly healed and liberated man.  This was his charge and as those who resist, this is our charge too.  Liberated from the shackles of our false selves and redeemed by the Holy One of God, to follow Jesus is to return to the very places and people we’d rather keep away from.   “Go and tell the people what God has done for you,” he counsels.   No, he is not suggesting that we’ll change hearts.

But he wants to make it clear that he has changed ours.

[1] I am indebted to Ched Meyer’s analysis on Luke 8: 26-39, June 2016, Radical

Author: Jessica McArdle

These are dark and corrosive times. As a writer and ordained minister with the United Church of Christ, I use prayer, poetry, reflection, and scripture to re-align our embattled spirits with the uniqueness and urgency of our God-given identity and call.

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