- 1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a and Psalm 42 and 43 •
- Isaiah 65:1-9 and Psalm 22:19-28 •
- Galatians 3:23-29 •
- Luke 8:26-39
When I was a child we sang a hymn with the opening line ‘Jesus, friend of little children, be a friend to me’. It conjured up an image, often confirmed by pictures in children’s Bible’s, of a warm and kindly Jesus, very much at home in village life and popular with the children. When I came to read the Gospels attentively for myself, I found a very different Jesus depicted in them – someone with a much more forbidding personality, set apart from other people, moving from place to place. Although he carefully chose twelve disciples to accompany him, Jesus stands out in the Gospels as an essentially solitary prophet, with a mission that only he fully understood, and his followers understood hardly at all.
|Jesus -- El Greco|
This week’s Gospel depicts Jesus in precisely this way. It is a mysterious spiritual strength verging on divinity that enables him to engage with the most extreme mental disturbance. A naked madman whom no one has been able to approach is found clothed and seated quietly at Jesus’ feet. Even today, for all our medical advances, we still find such madness in another human being deeply alarming. It is no surprise, therefore, that the people living on the shores of the Sea of Galilee found Jesus’ power in this respect just as unnerving as the madness it overcame. So much so, in fact, that they asked him to leave their part of the country. Only the madman, now restored, wanted to be with him.
The interesting twist in the story, though, is that Jesus tells him to go home, and thank God for his cure. This is further confirmation of the strange loneliness of Jesus, a loneliness that comes to a climax on the Cross, where, we might say, he hangs alone for our salvation. The lesson to be learned is that we can only bear to encounter the mysterious holiness of God if, as St Paul says in the Epistle, we are willing to ‘cloth ourselves with Christ’. This involves abandoning all the badges of self-identity that often mean so much to us. In Christ ‘there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; all are one in Christ Jesus’.