Coming Home –  Healing as Homecoming (Week 2)

In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

There are few that Jesus meets, in the Gospel according to St Luke, who are farther from home than the man possessed by demons in the Garasenes. In chapter 8 of the gospel, Jesus, who has just calmed a storm on the lake, finds himself in the presence of another storm. He meets a demon possessed man over on the other side of the lake, in Gentile territory. For a long time the man has worn* no clothes, and he does not live in a house but in the tombs. The man is kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he repeatedly breaks the bonds and is driven by the demon into the wilds. (Luke 8:27,29) All the signs point to the fact that this possessed man is an outsider in every way – he is out of his mind, living outside a home, he is far away from Jewish territory.

In this, our second sermon series exploring Jesus as the one sent by God to bring us home, we will explore the idea of healing as homecoming. Last week we saw Jesus as one infused by the spirit, one who is utterly at home in God. We saw his mother Mary, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, welcoming his son sent by God to turn the ways of the world upside down. Mary’s song, the Magnificat, infused with the radical theology of the Old Testament, leaves us in no doubt each week when we hear it sung at Choral Evensong, that God’s embrace is wide and reverses the values of our world. God, will bring down the powerful from their thrones, and lift up the lowly, will fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away empty. (Luke 1:52-4) God, in Christ, will heal the sick, will free those who are demon possessed.

Last week we saw that Luke portrays Jesus at prayer before so many significant events in the gospel and we pondered the idea that prayer might be thought of as talking “a long, loving look at the real”. Jesus does this with whomever he meets. Even a man from whom most would run away. Even a man possessed by demons. We might spend moment thinking about those demons. Demons speak against the voice of God. God, we remember from last week, calls Jesus, and all that God has made, “Beloved”. The demon voices, the voices of negativity, attempt to drown out God’s voice, tell us, it cannot be that we are “Beloved”, tell us we cannot be “the strange beautiful person God called us to be”[1], to quote a priest I once heard. It is unusual that one would be so affected that they would live the life of the naked deranged man in the Garasenes, but we are all affected by voices that challenge God’s loving voice.

When Jesus steps out of the boat, the man possessed by demons meets him. When the man approaches Jesus, Jesus commands the unclean spirit to come out of him and he falls down before him and shouts 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’—Jesus then asks him, ‘What is your name?’ He says, ‘Legion’; for many demons had entered him. They beg him not to order them to go back into the abyss, back where they came from. (Luke 8:27,28,30)

The demons know who Jesus is. Because Jesus stays. Jesus goes right close to this man, takes a long loving look at him, if you like, and does not run away. Sometimes loving is about not running away. Sometimes care of those who are ill or disturbed involves staying put.

Simone Weil wrote:

Those who are unhappy have no need for anything in this world but people capable of giving them their attention. The capacity to give one’s attention to a sufferer is a rare and difficult thing; it is almost a miracle; it is a miracle.[2]

We cannot know if Jesus is frightened by this possessed man or not, but whatever he feels, Jesus is that miracle; he stays and engages with him. Jesus engages with the demons and casts them out. And when people come out to see what has happened, they find the man from whom the demons have gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. We might think he has found his home at Jesus’ side but Jesus has other ideas about that. When the healed man asks to stay with Jesus, Jesus* sends him away, saying, ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’ (Luke 8:38-9) Homecoming is about being healed and sharing the good news of God’s healing. And that healing comes from Jesus’ determined presence. A presence that is offered to all.

Illness often excludes. Those who are ill cannot thrive in the life of their community. The woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years who came up behind Jesus and touched the fringe of his clothes would have been considered unclean in her community. She was unclean, and any who she touched, including Jesus, would have been made unclean by that touch. He is not concerned about that, though. He feels the power go out of him and knows that a woman has been healed but there is more to this healing than the stopping of the woman’s haemorrhage. Jesus wants her to know the role she has played in her being made well. (Luke 8:43-6)

Most healing stories involve a cry, a cry of faith, or a cry of the struggle for faith. Healing stories are exodus stories, really. They involve God freeing a person or a people who are enslaved in some way by illness, an illness that traps them away from home. God engaged with the people of Israel in slavery in Egypt when God heard them cry out and God freed God’s people. When Jesus heals he heals in response to a cry of the one who is sick or one who knows them.

The story of the healing of the woman with the haemorrhages is enfolded in another healing story, the story of the healing of Jairus’ daughter. Jairus cried out to Jesus on behalf of his dying daughter, begging him to come to his house to heal her. (Luke 8:41-2)The haemorrhaging woman “cries out” to Jesus by touching the fringe of his clothes. Jesus’ healings seem to involve the meeting of the faith of the one who is ill, or one who cares for them, with his compassion, with his long loving look at them. Jesus says to the woman who has been suffering with the haemorrhages, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.’ Immediately after he has sent the healed woman home, Jesus is met with the news that Jairus’ daughter has died. Luke has interwoven these two healing stories to highlight the importance of faith in healing. ‘Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved.’ Jesus says to the girl’s distraught father. He goes to Jairus’ house, commands his daughter to “get up” and tells her parents to give her something to eat. A family meal is about to take place. Jairus’ home has been restored. (Luke: 48-50, 54-5)

Jesus’ courageous and compassionate presence casts out demons and heals disease, especially in the presence of the faith expressed in him by those who are ill or those who love them. Jesus’ ‘long loving look’ at the struggle of those he encounters brings them home.

Only it doesn’t always seem to. When we live with an illness that it seems will not go away, or when we watch a loved one die from an illness that was not healed, or when we know someone or find ourselves with struggles, physical or emotional, that just seem to be part of who we are, we might wonder what all these stories about Jesus healing might mean. I wonder if, at times like this, we might remember that man in the Garasenes. Because struggling, or watching another we love struggle, with a disease can leave us some days feeling a little like that man who was naked and homeless and overwhelmed. And we might imagine Jesus getting out of a boat on the other side of a lake, far away from home and sitting with us. Just sitting with us. We might imagine that. That however far from home we experience ourselves to be, or one we love to be, he will come and sit with us and will not leave us alone.

It’s our cry that matters. Our expression of the truth. The cry of the demons in the possessed man. Or the cry of the woman as she touches Jesus’ clothes. The cry of Jairus for his daughter. It’s telling God the truth of our life, and the lives of those we love, that matters. And he may restore us as we hope to be restored. The bleeding woman may be healed. The girl may rise up to eat a meal with her family. The man may find his place by Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. But we know well that may not be granted. And if it’s not, then pouring out our truth to God is what matters. And he’ll be there. Jesus won’t leave us alone. And we might find that sitting with him, speaking the truth of our longing for healing will, strangely, be home.



[1] Lucy Winkett in a sermon from a television programme on St Paul’s cathedral, London.

[2] Quoted in Painting the Word by John Dury p37.