TEXT: Luke 8:26-39

Then [Jesus and his disciples] arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. (Luke 8:26)


I was a sailor, I was lost at sea
I was under the waves before love rescued me.
I was a fighter, I could turn on a thread
Now I stand accused of the things I’ve said.

When love comes to town I’m gonna jump that train
When love comes to town I’m gonna catch that flame.
Maybe I was wrong to ever let you down
But I did what I did before love came to town.1

What if love did come to town? What if Jesus of Nazareth came to visit? What would you do? How would you feel? Would you be excited? Honoured? Would you make preparations as if Oprah was about to arrive? Would you be excited to meet someone who seems so loving and kind? Or would you be anxious and uneasy—hurrying, perhaps, to do some extra cleaning and straightening of the house? Would you prepare a special meal? Perhaps buy a new outfit? What would you do if Jesus came to town?

In chapter eight of Luke’s gospel, Jesus pays a visit to the country of the Gerasenes—a Gentile region on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. And—as he always does in Luke’s Gospel—he arrives with all the authority and power of God. When Jesus comes to visit, it is no longer “business as usual.”

When Jesus is around, people and conditions are challenged … No. More than challenged. Things are upset. People and conditions are transformed.

Jesus must have come to the Gerasenes in order to teach—and perhaps to heal some lepers, or lame … But, almost before he can get off the boat, those plans get derailed. “As he stepped out on land,” Luke tells us, “a man of the city who had demons met him” (Luke 8:27a).

The guy is a buck naked maniac! He charges out at Jesus from his home in the cemetery, screaming at the top of his lungs for Jesus to leave him alone, and not torment him.

Of course, as the story unfolds, we learn that it is not really the man who speaks to Jesus, but the demons inside him. And they are pleading with Jesus, asking him not to send them “back into the abyss.” They ask to be allowed to enter a herd of swine feeding nearby, and Jesus gives them permission. So they do that. But the pigs don’t take it well. The whole lot of them dive into the lake and are drowned.

The man from the tombs, however … Well, he is restored to health and wholeness—and here, we see the transforming power of God at work.

The dramatic change in this troubled man’s life is the kind of transformation sung about by the rock band U2 in the song “When Love Comes to Town”:

Used to make love under a red sunset
I was making promises I was soon to forget.
She was pale as the lace of her wedding gown
But I left her standing before love came to town.

I ran into a juke-joint when I heard a guitar scream
The notes were turning blue, I was dazed and in a dream.
As the music played I saw my life turn around
That was the day before love came to town.1

The verses tell the story of a life marked by betrayal, confusion, and lostness—a life that is changed when confronted by a great, robust love. “I did what I did before love came to town,” says the chorus.

However, love did come to town, and the singer’s life was changed. It’s a song the man in today’s gospel might well have sung. When love comes to town—when Jesus comes around—everything changes. He shakes things up. That’s what happens here. The demons immediately recognize that they are in the presence of a power much greater than their own. The forces of evil and oppression always tremble when confronted by the power of God.

But the reaction of the local people … that’s kind of surprising, isn’t it? You might expect them to be happy. I mean, this man—this scary guy who has caused them so much trouble—is now sane and whole. You might think they’d want to throw a party to celebrate this miracle of salvation. But there is no party. There is no celebration.

Luke says,  “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” (Luke 8:35). Another translation says they were “in a state of panic.” They are frightened out of their wits, and they ask Jesus to go away.

Now, to us, that seems like an odd response. We’re not used to thinking of Jesus as frightening. Why are they so scared?

Well, imagine that you’re a Gerasene pig farmer! You might be afraid that—if Jesus hangs around—you won’t be able to make a living. After all, he has just sent an important part of the local economy to destruction in the lake. Yet, the fear these people have might be about something more than financial ruin.

After all, if Jesus has power over the forces of evil, if Jesus can heal somebody like the longsuffering man in the text—destroying a hog farm in the process—what might he do next? Who is safe from that kind of power?

In his own way, Jesus is as disruptive of normal life as a gigantic flood or an out-of-control wildfire. Who is going to welcome that kind of upset? Most of us just want to continue our comfortable, familiar patterns of living—and we think it is a disaster if we can’t.

I heard a story once, about a farmer who had a few animals he kept in a barn. But the barn had gotten old, and drafty, and leaky. The farmer decided he needed a new barn; so he tore down the old barn, and built a fine new one. And he believed that now his animals would be safe and dry.

One day a violent storm tore through the area. The farmer decided to look in on his animals, and so he walked out to the new barn. But when he got there, he was shocked to discover that the door had been left unlatched, and all of the animals had run away.

Where did they go? The farmer discovered them not far off, huddled together within the foundations where the old, familiar barn had once stood.

People are like that, too. It is always easier to cling to what we know than to risk facing something new.

So it was with the Gerasenes. Jesus stepped onto their shore and demonstrated his power to make all things new … and that possibility terrified them. So they asked him to leave them alone.

This fear of change is not unknown to us, is it? We see it in churches and individuals that cling to familiar ways of doing things, even when those old patterns are clearly not working any longer.

If Jesus came to visit us, I wonder what we would do. I wonder if we’d be afraid of how much in our lives he might shake up. I wonder if—just like the Gerasenes—we might ask him to leave.

Or perhaps we’d try to tame him—to domesticate him—by making him into a marshmallow—someone who is soft and sweet, who never loses his temper, who is no kind of threat to anyone.

The novelist Dorothy Sayers wrote about this domestication of Jesus. She said:

The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused Him of being a bore—on the contrary; they thought Him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround Him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certifying Him “meek and mild,” and recommended Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious ladies. To those who knew Him, however, He in no way suggested a milk-and-water person; they objected to Him as a dangerous firebrand.2

“Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” may shield us from the fearsome power of God—but he is incapable of changing anything.

You know, in our gospel story, there is one other reaction to Jesus’ visit—and that is the reaction of the man who was healed. This powerful Jesus has given him back his life.

From a naked, howling, tormented animal who lived in the graveyard, he has been changed into someone who sits at the feet of Jesus—clothed, and in his right mind. That is astounding. No wonder he might be singing along with Bono!

The healed man is so grateful that he wants to go back to Galilee with Jesus. But the Lord tells him no. Instead, Jesus sends him to be an apostle to his own hometown, bursting with the good news of what Jesus has done for him.

You never know when or where Jesus is going to turn up. He just might come to visit me or you. He just might come with a promise of healing and new life. And he has the power to make it happen. So, my friends, let’s not send Jesus away. Let’s be open to what he might do—in us, and through us—for his name’s sake.

When love comes to town I’m gonna jump that train
When love comes to town I’m gonna catch that flame.
Maybe I was wrong to ever let you down
But I did what I did before love came to town.

I was there when they crucified my Lord
I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword.
I threw the dice when they pierced his side
But I’ve seen love conquer the great divide.1



1“When Love Comes to Town” by U2 from the album Rattle and Hum(1989). Lyrics by Bono (Paul David Hewson).

2Sayers, Dorothy. “The Greatest Drama Ever Staged” in Christian Letters to a Post-Christian World: a Selection of Essays(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1969), p. 15.

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