There is a story about Jesus that seems like a helpful metaphor for so much of what is going on today. One day Jesus left his home country and traveled into Gentile territory. Jesus was always crossing boundaries. He challenged boundaries regularly.
Whenever we move beyond our familiar, comfortable places, we often meet challenges otherwise invisible to us. We see suffering that our privilege protects us from.
As Jesus steps into this other land, he is confronted by a man who seems like a metaphor for so many of the complex ways people suffer. This stranger is naked, poor, homeless and distressed. He is unable to speak for himself. He is so marginalized that he has lost the power self-expression. He may be mentally disabled. Without resources, he resorts to violence, the only option for so many suffering persons seeking to break the cycles imprisoning them in the chains of poverty, powerlessness and disease. Violence always leads to chaos. This man has been driven away, into the wilds, living in the tombs among the dead. He is like so many people entangled in our justice system today, where your life is not your own, and if you do not have enough money for bail, they lock you up, and if you are homeless and can't get the notice of your court appearance you get impossible fines for failure to appear. The Biblical way of describing these kinds of torments is to say that this man is possessed by demons.
Jesus confronts the situation directly. Jesus demands, "What is your name?" In ancient cultures to know the name is to have power over the other. We know this truth. When the doctor says, 'It may be cancer," we are thrown into chaos. Later, when the doctor says, "We have a diagnosis," we give the cancer a name, a stage and a treatment plan. We have power. We can steel our courage and hope.
Jesus asks, "What is your name," and the demons answer. "Legion, for we are many." Systems of oppression are so complex; there are so many demons. Poverty is usually at the core.
The demons are Legion. Without the basic securities of food, shelter and health care, how can you grow, learn and develop your fullest potential? Good schools and a nurturing environment may open new vistas beyond your borders. But violence begets violence. Violence is the only way some children learn how to solve problems. Childhood trauma will arrest development, planting damaging memories. Children become teens, escaping their pain with drugs, alcohol and unsafe sex at an age when brains quickly develop addictions. They become vulnerable to predators, and vulnerable to the legal system.
Jesus' presence threatens the systemic demons of Legion. The Roman Legion was the empire's enforcement arm. Elites with power and money charged the Legion to keep order. Elites structured the system to concentrate power in the hands of a few and to maximize their profits from the labor of the many. This is true in every empire in every generation.
Jesus names the demons. He exposes the suffering of injustice to the light. Then Jesus overthrows the demons, casting them out. It is costly action and dirty work. Jesus sends the demons into a herd of swine, unclean animals in his tradition. But the dirty swine business makes money for swine herders. When they see this, they stir up trouble for Jesus. They create fear. Be afraid of Jesus, they say. If Jesus upends this part of the system, who knows what may be next.
Fear is their strategy. Fear is the opposite of love. Fear is the most destructive political technique. If you can get people to fear, they will do anything, even war and genocide. Fear is the energy behind the legion of oppression aimed at the "other" -- the other race, nation, party. Fear is the tool of the demagogue and tyrant.
But love casts out fear. Jesus is perfect love. And when Jesus is finished, the naked man is sitting before Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.
Still the city kicks Jesus out. They fear the costs of such healing reforms. They believe it costs too much to dismantle the systems of Legion. They will not pay the cost of courageous love, the cost of change.
So Jesus leaves, but he tells the newly healed man to go back and be a witness. Tell them, Jesus says, how much courageous love has done for him. He has transformed from death to life.
Commentary on 07/09/2019
Print Headline: Challenging oppression