Mark 5: 1-20
5They came to the other side of the lake, to the country of the Gerasenes. 2And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. 3He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; 4for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. 5Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. 6When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; 7and he shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.’ 8For he had said to him, ‘Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!’ 9Then Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He replied, ‘My name is Legion; for we are many.’ 10He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; 12and the unclean spirits begged him, ‘Send us into the swine; let us enter them.’ 13So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the lake, and were drowned in the lake.
14 The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. 15They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. 16Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. 17Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood. 18As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. 19But Jesus refused, and said to him, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.’ 20And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.
It is almost time for the seasonal binge of “A Christmas Story”, the tale of Ralphie and his quest to get a Red Rider BB Gun for Christmas.
One of the characters in the movie is Ralphie’s nemesis, Scut Farkus.
The one with the yellow eyes!
Farkus is a bully who terrorizes Ralphie and his friends, twisting their arms up behind their backs until they say “uncle”.
Later in the movie, Ralphie gets hit in the face with a snowball thrown by Farkus.
Ralphie has finally had enough and does something Farkus does not expect.
He puts Farkus on the ground and wails away at him until Ralphie’s mother comes and pulls him off and takes him home.
My initial reaction to the scene when I watch it for the 1,000th time is:
Nice to see the bloody nose.
Farkus deserved it.
I think that is a pretty common response to bullying.
No one likes a bully.
Whether they be playground bullies or bullies of the more sinister or aberrant kind.
We have read about a lot of such bullies in the recent past.
These bullies do not twist arms, but obtain an automatic weapon and open fire.
These bullies take advantage of an imbalance of power to impose themselves on, violate, assault or humiliate another person, physically or emotionally.
We send “thoughts and prayers” to the victims.
Which is good, because they need it.
That is what we did last week here when we prayed for the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas.
We could have and should have offered our thoughts and prayers for the victims of abuse and humiliation and harassment we have heard about so many times in the past week.
Those folks need it, too.
But such responses have been criticized because of what is missing.
We need to do something, too.
Our knee jerk reaction is primitive.
We want someone to strike back, like Ralphie.
We want to see these bullies knocked down and bloody.
We praise the First Baptist Church neighbor who pulled out his own gun and shot the Sutherland Springs murderer.
He deserved to get shot.
And maybe we should applaud that neighbor.
He acted on the spur of the moment and might have saved some lives.
So that’s one response.
Had the murderer survived and been arrested, we would certainly want him punished – and severely.
The problem is, that these responses alone are not enough.
It is too late.
It is reactive but not preventive.
We need to do something to prevent these bullies from doing their damage.
What can we do to prevent such things?
Does Jesus offer any advice?
Well, in today’s scripture, Jesus runs into a bully.
As Jesus gets off the boat, a man runs out of a local graveyard, rushes up to confront him.
Who is this guy?
A man who has been cast out of the community because he is dangerous.
The townspeople had unsuccessfully tried to restrain him with chains.
Then he was banished to live in the tombs.
In Matthew’s version of the story, he comes from the tombs and attacks folks passing by on the road.
You can feel the prospect of violence in the air.
But Jesus does something unexpected.
Jesus asks him his name.
In this context, asking someone their name is more than just for identification.
It is a request for a personal history that defines him.
And explains what he does.
The man responds that he is “legion”!
Multitudes life events that make him do what he does.
Jesus exorcizes what he does and the past events that make him do it, and leaves behind the man in his right mind.
The people are safe from him now.
Jesus prevents this man from doing any more damage to the folks in the town and on the road.
Jesus is peace making.
Jesus says this event is blessed.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
You know, the ones who don’t want to fight.
Who don’t want to retaliate.
Who want to seek solutions that prevent future bullying.
Jesus is not saying that people who “mind their own business” turn away are blessed.
He says that peace makers are blessed.
Peace makers are called children of God.
People who seek solutions!
That is life in the Kingdom.
A life that imitates Jesus.
And that is why peace making is blessed.
What does that look like?
Let me tell you a story.
A good friend of mine has a daughter who is a heroin addict.
This young woman did what addicts do.
She preyed on her parents for money and when they did not give her any, she stole it from them.
She would show up at their front door screaming for money, food, a car, any kind of support.
Her parents were afraid that she was going to end up dead.
That was her power over them.
She bullied them.
There are those who claim that the best response would be to banish her.
But that does not bring peace.
They decided on a different way.
Her mom asked me to help perform an intervention.
And we did.
We had a professional counselor help us through it.
It was something that is hard to describe.
It was very uncomfortable.
When we confronted the daughter, I felt like I was in Gerasene.
As soon as she realized what was going on, she freaked.
It was like she was possessed.
She was possessed by her addiction.
Over the course of about 4 hours of this, we convinced her to go to rehab.
She left immediately with the counselor for rehab.
How did we do it?
We asked her questions.
We probed her feelings.
We tried to discover her motivations.
We confronted her misperceptions.
And we convinced her that her life would be better if she were clean.
Like Jesus, we cared for her and about her and sent her on a road to exorcize her demons, which were legion.
There was peace.
That is an intervention.
Can this work in other contexts?
But we have to ask some questions.
Why do people become bullies?
There are lots of theories.
Their parents are bullies.
They feel powerless.
They feel invisible.
They feel entitled.
They lack empathy.
These demons make them become violators of others.
What is interesting about all these things is that they can be fixed.
If we can find out their motivations, and why they feel the need to violate others, they can be taught to “exorcize” their “demons” that make them think their conduct is somehow allowed and somehow sanctioned.
With my friend’s daughter, it was a problem with a lack of self-esteem and a feeling of powerlessness.
It led to addiction.
Which brings us to the murders of 26 people in Sutherland, Texas.
Could this have been predicted and could there have been an intervention?
Here is a bit of interesting information.
A recent study found that of all the mass murderers in the recent past 54% were involved in domestic violence.
And the number might be higher because it does not include violence between people in relationships who are not married.
Why is this important?
If 54% of the murderers had been identified before the murders, there might have been an opportunity for intervention.
This guy in Sunderland Springs was an abuser of his wife and family.
That was well known.
An intervention years before might have made a difference.
Jailing him was appropriate, but that was a temporary fix.
What if someone had acted when his aberrant behavior first started?
How many lives could have been saved?
Find out what is going on and then do … something.
Like with my friend’s daughter.
And this is hard.
When Jesus intervened in Gerasene, they threw him out of town!
When Jesus intervened in humanity’s conflict with God, he got crucified!
So, what can we do?
We are struggling to find a solution.
Mental health care is inadequate.
Social services are insufficient.
Law enforcement does not take bullying seriously or is not given the tools it needs.
Folks don’t want to get involved.
But we have to find a way.
The Jesus way.
We need to pay attention, educate ourselves and seek solutions.
We can support addiction services, like Sojourner House.
We can support social services and nonprofits that offer interventions.
We can promote action!
We need to find a way to be peace makers.
To intervene, stop the aberrant behavior and point to a better way.
We aren’t there yet, but we need to keep trying.
It is what we are called to do.
To be peacemakers.
To be blessed.
To be children of God.