Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Why did the chicken cross the road?” It is one of the silliest and oldest jokes we know. And the answer can be anything from the mundane to the ridiculous. But our question this morning is “Why did Jesus cross the lake?” In the passage just before our reading, Jesus and the disciples get into a boat to cross the lake. Jesus is napping in the bow, when a huge storm comes up and almost swamps the boat. The disciples wake Jesus. He calms the storm. And rebukes them for their lack of faith.
When they arrive at the shore, which is Gentile territory, they are met by a man possessed by demons. Is this why Jesus wanted to cross the lake? Did he already know about this man? Is that why he took his disciples to a Gentile town? We don’t know what Jesus was thinking, but what happens next is even more amazing than his taming of the storm. Jesus encounters a demon-possessed man.
“What is your name?” asks Jesus.
I wonder if the disciples thought, “This guy is rolling around in the dirt Jesus, naked and bruised by his own hands, and all you do is ask him for his name?” The man replies, “Legion.” A legion is a large army—typically, over 6,000 men! Did the disciples doubt Jesus’ power over the demons? They had been following Jesus, and had seen his miracles, but this man is possessed by over 6,000 demons.
These demons seem to know who Jesus is, because they proclaim him Son of the Most High God, and beg Jesus not to send them back to the abyss. Jesus gives them what they ask for, and sends them into a herd of pigs who panic and stampede into the lake and drown.
When the townspeople see that their pigs, their livelihood, have been destroyed, they beg him to leave. So, Jesus does. He doesn’t preach a sermon to them, or rebuke them for their treatment of this formerly obsessed man. He doesn’t even say anything. Jesus just turns around, and he and the disciples get back in their boat and leave.
Wait just a minute, Jesus! Is that the only reason you crossed the lake? And why did you leave that poor man behind? He wanted to become a disciple! Jesus just says to the man, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”
Now we can guess why Jesus crossed the lake. It wasn’t just to heal the man with the demons. It was to share the good news of God’s love for ALL people. So, what does this reading say to us today? We don’t believe in demons. Today, this man would be considered to be mentally ill, and given treatment to help him get his life back in order.
But there are still outcasts even in our time. Homeless people, Black and Brown people, LGBTQ+ people, family members who do not follow what we see is the best direction for this country. So, what are we called to do about this? We can start by doing what Jesus did first, when he met the demon-possessed man. Ask them their name. By doing that Jesus saw this man differently than anyone in his community. Asking someone’s name means that we see them not just as the other, someone to be avoided, but as a real human person. Not a stereotype, Not one of THOSE people. But an individual worthy of love and kindness. By asking someone’s name and sharing your own with them, you are saying, “I see you for you, and I want you to see me the same way.” When we create relationships, it is much harder to dismiss people we disagree with.