Weekly Seeds: Fear of the Truth
Sunday, June 19, 2022 | After Pentecost
The Second Sunday After Pentecost Year C
Fear of the Truth
God of Truth, give us discernment to distinguish between fear that helps and fear that harms. Nurture our courage to confront the truth. Amen.
26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— 29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
All readings for this Sunday:
1 Kings 19:1–4 (5–7) 8–15a
Psalm 42, 43
1. When is fear helpful?
2. How can fear hinder our attitudes or behaviors?
3. How can avoidance of the truth manifest for us individually or in our communities?
4. How can we overcome fear of the truth?
5. In what ways do you see fear of the truth impacting your community of faith?
By Cheryl Lindsay
There are cliches and expressions about truth that may swirl in our heads. Fact is stranger than fiction. The truth will set you free. The truth will come out. We hear about “the God’s honest truth” suggesting a greater standard of authenticity. Who hasn’t seen a court drama where the witness swore to “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth…so help me God,” even if that didn’t exactly mirror what I experienced while on jury duty. One of the most famous movie lines is, “You can’t handle the truth.” I confess I never watched that movie but that scene is etched in my mind, not just because the actors involved are famous. It has been used in countless comedy skits and parodies. There’s something about that simple accusation that resonates…probably the truth in it.
Many of us are afraid of the truth in some form or other. We may be afraid of receiving critical feedback at work or school because our society places our value on our production rather than on our personhood. We may avoid seeking counsel on a problem because of the cost involved with resolving it. We dread the results of a medical examination for fear of a devastating diagnosis. We brace ourselves when receiving an unexpected call in the night.
Not all fear is unfounded. Fear can, after all, serve to protect us from exposure to hurt and harm. Healthy caution of inclement weather propels us to seek shelter in a raging storm. Fear of pain prevents us from placing our hands on an open flame. Fear can be an appropriate response to precarious or dangerous circumstances. But what do we do when our fears cause as much harm as they help?
As we consider the man filled with demons, one part of the story captures my attention. When the man is asked his name, he identifies himself not by his family name or given name. He essentially tells Jesus to call him by his condition. The outside forces he has internalized has taken over his identity and he has claimed theirs as his own. Who he was and is has been consumed by their presence. He is literally overwhelmed by them.
We don’t know how he reached this point. We aren’t privy to his journey; we only get to observe this encounter. Luke situates this story within a larger section where Jesus’ identity unfolds in a more expansive manner–not by naming, but by the revelation of his glory:
In its final phase, Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and its environs broadens. He ventures across the lake into new and strange territory, and after a period of training he dispatches the twelve apostles he has chosen to extend his ministry of teaching and healing. Through extraordinary acts of power, Jesus feeds a crowd, stills a storm on the lake, and continues to heal and release from demonic oppression—glimpses of a glory that the narrative soon paints in brilliant transfiguration colors. Throughout, however, there remains the question of his identity: Who is this? Who can do and say the things he does? As identity and vocation are wrapped up with destiny, the activity in Galilee, in which Jesus has provoked the question of his identity by actions and words that express his vocation, aptly ends with a decisive shift in direction. From 9:51 onward, Jesus will be journeying to Jerusalem, where his destiny lies.John T. Carroll
Identity holds great significance in the unfolding of the redemption story. This man that Jesus meets was and remains largely unknown. Because of his condition, he isolated from the community and would have been shunned by them had he attempted to integrate with them. This truth makes his interaction with Jesus all the more noteworthy:
A bizarre outsider becomes an insider (8:26–39). For the first and only time, Luke’s Jesus leaves Israelite territory. He encounters a demoniac on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, likely a gentile, unclean—an extreme outsider who dwells not among the living but in tombs, as good as dead. As in other restorations, violations of norms (this time regarding gentiles and tomb impurity) are formidable. Also the demons name themselves “Legion,” which the narrator associates with “many demons.” But it is also Latin for many Roman soldiers. Moreover, how this demoniac plays out his insanity involves psychosocial manifestations of oppression (Theissen, 255–56). Indeed, Jewish people named the Romans who subjugated them “swine.” They equated Roman legions with herding pigs, and a Qumran text belittles a legion for worshiping the emblem of swine on their standards and weapons (Annen, 184). The demons enter swine that bring about their own demise by jumping in the lake (symbolically?). The man then becomes an insider at Jesus’ feet, who makes mysteries of God’s commonwealth known to others. He hears God’s word, does it, and is Jesus’ kin.Robert L. Brawley
Of course, this isn’t the only time that Jesus disregarded purity laws. This was not the first or only time that Jesus engaged with someone that the rest of the world discounted. This would certainly not be the last time that Jesus would enter the circumstances of an unknown person, redeem their condition, and make them the instrument of revealing his glory and his identity. This text, however, reminds us that not everyone rejoices when someone finally becomes free. In fact, many become threatened by it:
When Jesus permits the army of demons to find a new home in a herd of pigs, which promptly rush to destruction, the man is restored to health and, at least potentially, to the community. That community, though, responds with fear so intense that Jesus has no choice but to leave. The man, bereft of his demon army, now tries to remain with Jesus, but in an interesting reversal of the demotion of existent family relationships in 8:19–21, Jesus sends him back to his own house. He will need to be the one who tells the Gerasenes the story of God’s saving work.John T. Carroll
The community that had ostracized the man in his affliction then turned to ostracize the one who delivered him from it. Thank God that Jesus didn’t have to convince a committee before he could heal the sick or cast out demons. Jesus was not constrained by a board that had to approve his liberating acts. His accountability rested in his union with the Parent and the Spirit, but he moved in full authority to conduct his mission.
But the people were afraid when they recognized that Jesus had the ability to change circumstances…even exponentially for the better. They couldn’t handle the reality that things can be different.
I think about this in light of the debate on gun control and responsibility in the United States. The vast majority of citizens approve and would welcome some measure of gun safety legislation. “The United States is on pace to match or surpass its worst year on record for the number of mass shootings, according to data compiled by the Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit that tracks gun violence incidents across the country. There have been at least 246 mass shootings through June 5 this year.” (cnn.com) Most of these incidents don’t make the news headlines because there are so many of them. I recall a Twitter post where a doctor bemoaned that the mass shooting that occured at their hospital did not garner national attention because the other mass shooting at a hospital that same day in another state had more victims.
I had a conversation after the mass shooting at a school in Uvalde with someone who said, “I just don’t know what we can do.” I’ve been sitting with that because, at the time she said it, I immediately thought of at least half a dozen things that can be done. They have been documented and reported for years. You can even find memes on social media that can tell you what can address this problem. I had, in the course of our discussion, noted at least four separate initiatives that we could adopt as best practices from other countries who have little gun violence.
That conversation reminded me that it’s often easier to claim helplessness or adopt a fatalistic attitude than to do the thing we don’t want to do even if it will net the results that we desire. That’s why we may find it so challenging to handle the truth. There is a comfort in being controlled by the “legion.” We can claim that identity rather than responsibility for our actions and destiny. We can stay on the periphery, not necessarily safe, but removed from the community.
But Jesus does not allow that. Jesus moves us from the outside to the inside. And, when we might desire to cling to Jesus alone, Jesus sends us back to our community.
Becoming whole and free is not easy or without discomfort. The most taxing aspect may be overcoming our fear or the fears of the community projected upon us. But that is the work of incarnation, passion, and resurrection. It is the hope of salvation and the promise of re-creation. It is our purpose, our journey, and our truth.
Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent:
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
As a nine-year-old kid in the Detroit ghetto, I was drawn to the television screen to view the funeral. I was just beginning to understand my blackness, just learning that it existed, that it was essential in a world where whiteness loomed as an unknowable force. I had never gone to school with white kids, had rarely even interacted with white folk outside of the neighborhood business owners for whom my father, and eventually I, worked. I didn’t know what they liked or how they thought of the world, how they handled their disappointments or whether they, like us, laughed at misery to keep from crying. I was only starting to sense that white folk may have feared us as much as they didn’t like us; it seemed vaguely tied to how we refused to bow in the face of suffering and how, despite their doing the worst they could imagine doing to us, we refused to give in. With King’s death, the whiteness that had been shapeless suddenly lunged forward. When King was killed, I felt vulnerable; all that made sense no longer held in place, and it appeared that the cosmos had gotten drunk on its insufficiency, teetered off course, and hurtled madly toward oblivion. How else could it be? Martin Luther King, Jr., was put down like a mangy dog. His breathing and being were seen as such an offense that they had to be stopped at all costs. I was frightened for months. He had been murdered on a balcony, and I could no longer easily wash my hands in our bathroom, which opened onto an upstairs balcony, without fearing that whiteness would kill me too.
Perhaps that was why I paid such close attention to his funeral; I was in search of unspoken solace, of comfort that could only come if I could discern in his services some logic, some possible clue, for why he had to perish, some explanation that might, I felt too guilty to admit, spare me his same fate. My father thought it was all morbid. He eventually sent me outside to play, but not before I eagerly drank in the mournful cadences of the folk gathered at King’s public service. They surely grieved for King and his valiant family, and, yes, for themselves. But their grief had become a ritual that was all too familiar when a leader or an ordinary soul had been silenced by white rage; and by then our rituals could barely contain moments like this, moments for which we had no words.
Michael Eric Dyson, What Truth Sounds Like
For further reflection:
“Usually we think that brave people have no fear. The truth is they are intimate with fear.” — Pema Chondon
“Truth fears no question.” — Unknown
“I would put myself in the attitude to look in the eye an abstract truth, and I cannot. I blench and withdraw on this side and on that. I seem to know what he meant who said, No man can see God face to face and live.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.
The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (firstname.lastname@example.org), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.