“They found the man from whom the demons had gone out sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.“
These words, from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 8, have always been intriguing to me. Jesus performs a wonderful act of deliverance, and it brings about fear in the people who find out about it.
Why is this? One element could have been the pigs that drowned themselves in the process. That’s probably a lot of money that just ran into the lake. But I think at a more foundational level the people were afraid because it was a new, unfamiliar situation.
The text says the man had been possessed by this legion of demons “for a long time.” He was a known quantity in the town. A bit of a freak, sure, but he mostly stayed in the tombs and didn’t bother anybody. I can imagine groups of kids from the town venturing into the tombs to catch a glimpse of the crazy naked man who cuts himself.
I recently read that our minds have a “homeostatic impulse,” which regulates our breathing and body temperature, but can also cause us to unconsciously seek out that which is familiar, and resist that which is unfamiliar.
We resist the cognitive dissonance that comes with needing to deal with a truly new situation. We like things to be the way they already are, even if that includes some horrible things.
So when the town crazy isn’t crazy anymore, but is dressed and in his right mind, it demands a lot of rethinking. It demands some change in perspective. It requires repentance.
So what stirs in the people is usually what stirs in us when we are confronted with wonderful, unfamiliar things: fear. And they listen to their homeostatic impulse and ask Jesus to leave their town.
“This is amazing, Jesus, but it’s a bit much. We’d prefer if you left and we can get back to normal life.”
And, equally remarkably, Jesus honors their request. He gets into a boat and leaves. Jesus doesn’t impose himself where he isn’t wanted.