It can be easy to dismiss the stories of the Bible because of how far removed from it all we seem to be. Events that happened 2, 3, even 5,000 years-ago can feel like they haven nothing to say to us now. We like to think that we live in a society that is more civilized. Technology is certainly more advanced. Science has taught us much about what was thought to be supernatural. Since Darwin first published On the Origin of Species, the church has struggled to keep the Bible relevant and active despite places where the story of scripture doesn’t seem to match the story being revealed to us. Some, like Jesus Seminar Scholars have tried to throw the Biblical narrative all away as myth. Others, like the car I saw on Sunday with a bumper sticker that says “Evolution is a Lie” have made the choice to throw out science. Neither have been very successful because theology and science aren’t zero sum games.
The reality is that we live in a world where God is constantly being newly revealed to us both in scripture and in science. God’s story continues to intersect with our story even more than a thousand years after the canon was finally established. This came to light to me this morning as I read the Gospel lesson appointed for Sunday. Jesus and the Gerasene demoniac is a story about which we have changed our understanding due to advancements in psychology, but we can also very much relate to the situation.
A man who is clearly suffering from some kind of mental illness has found himself outside of the bounds of normal society. Likely after years of his family trying to support him, finally the man’s struggles had burned every bridge and, as Luke tells it, “he did not live in a house.” As I’ve learned more than I ever thought I would about the root causes of homelessness, I’ve heard a version of this story quite often. Mental illness, left untreated for a variety of reasons, eventually self-medicated with street drugs, is the story of some, not all, likely not even most, of those who have found themselves experiencing homelessness here in Bowling Green.
While we don’t have the ability to just cast that which possesses folks into a herd of swine, we can still learn a lot from how Jesus interacts with the man he met on the lakeshore. First and foremost, Jesus saw the man and engaged him. He didn’t cross tot he other side. He didn’t put up a “no panhandling” sign filled with dubious “facts.” He didn’t shake his head and say “somebody should do something about that.” No, Jesus met the man, in all of his difficulty, face-to-face. He heard his story. He had compassion. And then, because there is no compassion without action, Jesus did something about the man’s situtation. This is where the rubber meets the road for those of us who follow Jesus. We are called to action. We are called to seek ways in which all of humanity can be restored to right relationship with God and one another. It isn’t easy work. In fact, as in this story, it can be downright messy, but it is the work to which we all have been called.