The cost of transformation

Pentecost 5 – 2016

Luke 8:26-39

Marian Free

 

In the name of God who soothes our sorrows, calms our fears and restores us to wholeness. Amen.

Just as the world was appalled when Boko Haran kidnapped 200 girls from their school in Nigeria, so the world applauded when some were discovered and brought home. While the restoration of the girls was a victory of sorts, few of us would understand the double burden that those young women carry. Traumatized and brutalized by their kidnapping, raped and abused by their captors, many of them returned home to discover that their own communities no longer accepted them. The girls who returned were not the girls who had left. They had lost their virginity and their innocence, the communities felt ashamed at their inability to protect the girls from harm but also ashamed by the perceived dishonour that the girls brought to their family’s of origin. Many of the victims now occupy a kind of no-man’s land, belonging nowhere, having no support and no certainty for the future.

They are not alone. Theirs is a story that is repeated in refugee camps throughout the world. Women who have escaped war or famine find themselves vulnerable to abuse and rape in the camps. Instead of finding sympathy and support from their family and wider community, they find themselves despised and rejected again because they are no longer the person they once were. Even within our “enlightened” Western society, there are young women whose relationship with their fathers is irrevocably changed when they are attacked or raped. Unconsciously and irrationally fathers find themselves unable to relate to their daughters who have been forcibly made into women.

A similar scenario is sometimes played out when the seemingly opposite occurs – when a family member is restored to health after a long illness. Although it seems contradictory, families and communities can mould themselves and form a new identity around the illness or disability of one member. Their new identity as carers for the vulnerable and their sense of purpose can be radically disrupted if the person for whom they care is restored to health. They no longer know what to do or how to behave. So while they may appear to be delighted that someone who was unwell is now well, there may be all kinds of subtle signs that tell the one-time sufferer that they are now uncomfortable in his or her presence.

Experiences of conversion can also have the effect of alienating a person from their family and community. When one member comes to faith, others can feel awkward around them. They no longer feel comfortable behaving the way that they use to behave – they are unsure what the rules of the new relationship might be, they wonder if they need to change their behaviour (stop swearing for eg), they are anxious that the newly converted might try to convert them. Over time, such discomfort can cause the relationships to break down.

It is only when we understand these complex family and community dynamics that Jesus’ instruction to the demoniac is thrown into relief.

Both the location and the presence of pigs tell us that Jesus is in Gentile territory. There he was accosted by a man who lived among the dead, a man who at times was so violent and uncontrollable that not only was he banished to the graves, but he was shackled and kept under guard. The demons that possess the man cannot bear to be in Jesus’ presence that traumatizes (“torments”) them. Realizing that there is no escape, they choose their fate – to enter the pigs. The demoniac is restored “to his right mind”.

Not surprisingly, the man who was possessed by demons wants to follow after the one who has saved him. His sense of amazement and gratitude will have been enough for him to follow Jesus, but perhaps he knew that he would find no welcome among the community who had rejected and restrained him. He may have sensed even if he did not know that in his absence the community will have found new ways of being and that relationships will have been redefined. There was no longer anything for him in his hometown.

Jesus has other plans. He asks the man to do something that is more difficult – to return to his home, to face the changes that have occurred, to rebuild relationships and to share with them his faith in Jesus.

As we will be reminded next week, discipleship is not without its costs. It may require leaving behind one’s home and family, facing ridicule and rejection or being a source of discomfort for those who thought that they knew you.

Being in a relationship with Jesus can be a powerful, transforming experience, but it can come at a cost. The good news is – that the rewards of discipleship far outweigh anything that we have to give up, any discomfort that we have to endure and any rejection that we might experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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