Proper 7 (12), Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
19 June 2022
Last Thursday was our travel day home. We left early to line up at the ferry from Quadra Island to Campbell River. We got to the ferry just after seven, knowing that we’d get onto the eight o’clock ferry. We got out of our vehicles and sat on a bench by the dock, just close enough to the terminal building for it to provide cover from the rain. After a little while I got up to see if the small coffee kiosk had opened and it was then that Jackie and her sister heard a blow and saw two humpback whales swimming in the channel. I missed the whales but still, as I was sitting there, I thought that life was good. It certainly was good to me who had just been on a short holiday. And yet I had to query my assessment, why did I think that life was good? What made me ask wasn’t simply the thought that life couldn’t possibly be good since our beloved Elias was no longer with us. It wasn’t the thought that everyone has had who has lost someone they loved, “How could I possibly enjoy life now?,” which at least for me grew out of the thought that I wish I had died instead of our Elias. It wasn’t that. It wasn’t that I could not possibly be permitted to have joy in this life. I am OK with experiencing joy.
Rather, my question was born out of two things, sheer curiosity as to what made life good for me at that moment, whether it was fleeting or permanent, and how life could be good in light of a war, the absence of peace talks, the deterioration of democracy in most Western nations, environmental degradation, you know, that kind of happy talk.
I decided that despite all of that, life was in fact good.
I remembered something I had learned from an essay about First Nations spirituality1 in which the author had stated that First Nations had little difficulty believing that Jesus was God because they already saw the world as imbued with God’s presence.
I think that’s what I saw on Thursday morning while I remembered that all things came into being through Jesus (John 1:3) and that from him and through him and to him are all things (Romans 11:36).
I wonder whether you would say that life is good and what it is that makes life good for you.
Later on Thursday I asked a group of people what it was that made life good for them. Some spoke of children, their own, or children in general, others of friendship, family, and connection, some of music and I learned that Bruce Cockburn has some great new music out.
None of the answers given were esoteric or detached, though all of the people in the group are followers of Jesus. The goodness we affirmed was in the midst of it all and despite of it all, but not in denial of it all.
In our reading from Luke we meet a person not entirely unfamiliar to us. A man living outside of human community and not in control of himself. We too encounter people like that. Usually they are people who live in the street and we try to avoid them for we do not know what to say or do, or we are simply nervous because we tend to be afraid of what we do not know.
On Friday we drove past a church where someone was living in the doorway while the church sign said something about ‘courage is moving forward despite our fear.’ There was a double irony here, one that most of us follow our fears when encountering people who are homeless, the other that mental illness can play a role in homelessness and is not overcome through pep talk.
No doubt, the church intended no harm, but sometimes it’s best to stay away from sayings that mistake the utterances of life coaches for wisdom.
The man in the Gospel as well as the man living in the church doorway long for redemption, though neither may articulate it in that way, and they may not be able to. Their life is not only hard because of illness and poverty, but also because they are excluded from their communities. They have no place they can go home to.
Perhaps the contrast to me sitting by the ferry dock at the end of my holiday could not be greater. I have a place to call home, I seem to be in control of my life at least most of the time, and I am not excluded from the community. And yet suffering is not completely alien to us, any of us. Near the end of Jesus farewell speeches in the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “In the cosmos you have suffering; but take heart – I have conquered the cosmos.” (John 16:33)
The Gerasene demoniac was the image of the living dead and his healing is an act of resurrection. God’s mission in Jesus is to raise the dead. We know that there is more than one way of being dead.
St Paul reminds us that in our baptism we were baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, so that in our baptism we died with Christ and were raised with Christ to live a new life. The Gerasene demoniac now lives a new life.
What we see in the story of the healing of this man is not simply a cure through which someone gets better, but the restoration of creation by the One through whom all things came into being.
As the man is healed he can say that life is good. He can say that life is good not because he does not know suffering but because he was dead and is alive again. When the townspeople come to see him, he sits at the feet of Jesus, and when Jesus leaves the area, he continues to tell what Jesus has done for him.
Jesus has made life good for him. But this is not a simple “he found Jesus” story, firstly because it is always Jesus who finds us first, but also because we see in his story that life becomes good not in denial of the death dealing realities of this world but through God’s victory over them. This man now lives a new life. In this way he is like the baptized, like the church, like you and I.
Thanks be to God.
1 Native Indian Spirituality by Gloria George, in Circle of Voices, edited by Charles P. Anderson, Tirthankar Bose, Joseph I. Richardson, Lantzville, BC: Oolican Books 1983, page 10-11