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. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 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. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “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.
Sunday is Juneteenth, the day in 1865 when enslaved people of Galveston, Texas, learned they were emancipated, although it had been the case since 1863. This observance is “about the journey and achievement of African Americans — from a horrific period of sanctioned enslavement to the pinnacle of human endeavors” (Juneteenth.com). So, it is fitting that Sunday’s Gospel is about healing and freedom: A man possessed by demons, ostracized and “living in the tombs,” is made whole by Jesus.
Today, we tend to understand demons as a metaphor for personal struggles — such as addiction, disease, or chronic illness. But demons can be systemic in society as well, such as our country’s addiction to guns, white supremacy, and income inequality. These societal demons perpetuate the fear that keeps us divided. We see systemic fear of freedom in Sunday’s Gospel as well. The Gerasa community is seized by fear at the man’s healing and restoration, and they banish Jesus, the healer and restorer.
Juneteenth is a time to celebrate what has been done to make our world better for all and reminds us to recommit ourselves to the healing work we need to do before we can all truly be free. It also reminds us to attend to the systemic forces that prevent change, keep oppression in place, and distract us with the falsehood that one person’s freedom must be another person’s loss. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Pádraig Ó Tuama notes, “Jesus’s attention was always a subtle thing: listening to what was on the surface of the day, but also listening to what was underneath.”
Alyce McKenzie asks, “What hinders us from telling others the good news that the power of God working through Jesus can defeat and reorder the destructive chaos in our lives and those of others?”
This week, instead of poetry, these prayers help us prepare for Juneteenth.
Léonard Gaultier’s The Gadarene Demoniacs, probably c. 1576/1580.
Freedom Looks Good on You with Maverick City Music is a joyous message of celebration for Juneteenth and may have been what the healed man sang when he “proclaim[ed] throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.” Turn it up and dance!
Beginning this Sunday, June 19, Discovery will explore Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians with insights on Paul’s views of love, spiritual gifts, and resurrection, from Dr. Lisa Bowens, Professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary. Each month this summer will feature one “Bible toolkit” session with Dr. Bowens followed by parishioner-moderated discussions.