I was always think of this passage from Luke as a cross between Ernest T. Bass and the Tasmanian Devil. The three share the characteristics of being out of control but also share loneliness. No one wants to be with any of these characters but they so desperately want to have friends. People who are mentally troubled are frightening because they are unpredictable. The switch we use to pull back from hurting someone or becoming violent is turned off for them. They are a harm to themselves and to us. Which is why we tend to avoid them on the street. The same is true for the Gerasene demoniac and the people are so frightened of him, they bind him in chains and sit a guard with him in the graveyard among the tombs Luke writes.
He is for all intents and purposes dead, spiritually and emotionally. Physically cut off from his friends and family. He is entombed by his illness. How many of us are entombed by things in our lives? Addictions to drugs, alcohol, shopping. Things which keep us from having a full and meaningful life. In the book "The Elephant in the Room " Tommy Tomlinson begins his story with the number on the scale: 467 pounds. The book is his year long quest to understand why he has chosen to entomb himself with his weight. Tomlinson tells of his misery at having to use seat belt extenders, to not being able to go on hikes or even his wife's inability to put her arms around him. His story is heart and gut wrenching to read and his honesty is bracing. Through the course of the book, he loses weight slowly and on his own timetable trying to understand how he reached this weight.
We are each in our own ways locked in our own personal tombs. Tombs of sorrow, loneliness, addiction or fear. But the good news in this like the Gerasene demoniac we too can be healed by the presence of Jesus. His healing touch gives us new life and we like the man locked away are free and free to tell about it.
Well as always, the Sunday after Pentecost is Trinity Sunday and preachers around the world wrestle with the concept. How to explain the explainable? We consult commentaries, listen to podcasts and yes, some even visit desperatepreacher.com for inspiration.
What I have learned about the Trinity is this: God is the Creator, Jesus is the Redeemer and the Holy Spirit is the Sanctifier. Each has their own role but like any good business model their roles are intertwined. We learn to live with the tension of the three being an active force in our lives and in the world.
Yes, it is a difficult concept but remember this: God created our beautiful world. Jesus redeemed us by his death on the cross and the Holy Spirit, She, yes she is the worker in the world.
As usual the first Sunday after Easter is the story of "Doubting Thomas." John writes the disciples were locked away for fear of the Jews. But let make one thing clear especially in light of the shooting at Chabad Community Center in Powawy yesterday. The Jews, as John calls them, are not responsible for the death of Jesus, the Empire was. By the Empire I mean all of those powers who work for evil instead of good. The groups who do not like to see the status quo upended. Rene Girard writes the reason for Jesus' death on the cross is his very presence and new way of thinking upended the old ways. Balance needed to be restored and a scapegoat had to be found. Jesus in Girard's theology is the scapegoat and his death order is in place. The people John was writing for were living in the diaspora and felt persecuted by the synagogue. What do we do when feel left out we look for someone to blame and this is exactly what John is doing, blaming the synagogue for their ills.
But on to Thomas. It is rather sad that Thomas is not present when Jesus appears in the Upper Room, isn't it? The question I have always had is this: If Jesus is all-knowing why didn't he wait for Thomas to return? Who is Thomas mad at? More than likely himself. If only I hadn't hung around in the marketplace flirting with that girl. He thinks. When he gets back to the ten, they exclaim they have seen the Lord. Thomas crestfallen, lashes out that he won't believe until he does the unthinkable. Touch the nail holes and put his hand in Jesus' side. Well a few days later Jesus shows up and tells Thomas to do that very thing. Thomas exclaims,"My Lord and My God." The only person in the gospels to exclaim this.
What does Thomas mean for us? I think it means faith is meant to be questioned. If we didn't at some point wonder what it was all about it would be rather one sided. Faith is meant to be examined and wrestled with. This what makes it so exciting. To ponder the big questions of life and to wonder about our place in the cosmos is what most of us do at some point or another. Courage is what is called for in examining our questions. Thomas is very brave, he has the wherewithal to say no and to question what at face value is so strange.
Instead of using Thomas as a cudgel, we should thank him for his bravery and his courage to have an open mind and in turn, an open heart.