” They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town…” (Luke 8: 26-27)
To travel “across the lake from Galilee…” was to go beyond the pale, to pass into foreign (and thus unclean) territory, according to the spatial theology of first centry Judaism. The Syro-Phoenician woman admitted to Jesus that she was indeed an outsider, a Gentile “dog,” and the book of Revelation used the same metaphor for those outside the holy city, that “Outside [were ]the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” (Rev 22:15)
And yet this was where Jesus went.
It was something that the Pharisees could never understand, wrapped up as they were with strict demarcation zones of what was holy and what was unholy. Indeed, the whole business of the Pharisee was -so to speak- to set up border controls and ban immigration, demonstrating fear of anything foreign, being highly suspicious of strangers, dreading contamination.
It is one of the sick ironies of history that Hitler’s Germany saw the presence of the Jews in their society in the same terms – as a contaminating evil that needed to be eradicated.
But Jesus had a different way of seeing things. To Jesus, there was no no-go zone. Indeed, he commanded his followers to “Go into ALL the world...”, to be salt and light, changing the very flavour and lightening the shadow of the world in which they lived. And he called himself “Son of Man” and never”Son of Israel,” because everything that beat in the heart of the human beat in his heart too.
He was a human first.
And so he told stories about Samaritans (the suspect foreigners who were the butt of Jewish in-jokes) who somehow became his story’s heroes! He healed the Syro-Phoenician woman’s girl. He touched lepers. He treated Roman centurions with compassion; he befriended tax collectors and received the love and worship of prostitutes.
In a sense, he constantly went “across the lake from Galilee.“
And in Luke 8, we are given a worst-case scenario of what that ousider world looked like: “When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. …Many times [the demon] had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by [it] into solitary places….”
I remember once applying for a job in the secure unit of a large Mental Hospital. I was escorted through double doors and to a gate that was promptly locked behind me, and suddenly found myself ushered into an ugly world of terrifying noise and violence, swirling about me. The smell was terrible. I carried a guitar (it was part of the prospective job) and the unusual sight brought curious onlookers loping to my side. Someone started stroking me. I smiled reassuringly, only for him to pull away in spasms of angry fury, punctuated by sobs. In just a moment or two he was strong-armed away and sedated.
It was the world of the demoniac.
It is oh-so easy to barricade off the difficult and the challenged, or to demarcate between what is fit and what is unfit, holy and unholy, clean and unclean… but Jesus insisted on crossing the border.Always.
And calls us to do the same.
And this encounter in Luke 8 is almost a parody of the worst fears of a God-fearing Pharisee: someone outside the covenant of Israel (“across the lake“), outside the borders of the rational (“a demon-possessed man“) and the respectable (“this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs”) – and we haven’t even got to the business of the flying pigs yet!
It recalls that song:
“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior…”
We are called to go out of our depth. We are summoned “across the lake” where it is not safe -and sometimes it’s downright scary.
The only good news about this summons is that through our obedience our “faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.”
For where Jesus is, there is the kingdom, the holy place. And Jesus speaks words of power, light and life and is the equal -the master- of any situation.
And I’m with him.