Today’s Lenten reflection is on the theme of freedom from fear. We journey with Jesus on a small boat in Lake Galilee. A sudden storm assaults us with howling winds and large waves. Later, we land in the country of the Gerasenes. There we come face to face with a violent man named Legion. The storm and Legion both provoke emotions of fear for our safety and well-being.
I suggest we begin by thinking about fear. Fear can be healthy. Our lives depend on having a realistic fear of certain conditions that threaten our well-being. We should fear sidewalks that are covered in ice. We walk carefully to avoid a fall. We should fear children standing too close to a busy street. We should fear running out of gas late at night on a long journey. We should fear the over use of anti-biotics so that they become ineffective in combatting common diseases. We should fear the long-term impact of climate change and environmental damage. In these cases fear means a thoughtful concern that may move us to forms of preventative action.
The problem is when fear paralyzes us. This may happen in different ways.
- We may not develop gifts or abilities because of fear of failure. Our anxiety about the opinions of other people means that talents and passions are never developed.
- We may develop anxiety disorders. The literature indicates that up to one-third of us will face serious periods of anxiety at different points in our lifetime. These anxieties or fears will affect our sleep patterns, our digestive system, our emotional well-being, and our relationships with others. Anxieties are not a sign of weakness. The causes are related to genetics, fatigue, circumstances, social settings, and the nature of our emotions.
- We may close the door to opportunities for growth and meaning because we fear the unknown. Some of us fear getting on a plane. Some of us fear speaking in public. Some of us fear sharing our emotions. Some of us fear dancing or learning a new language.
We live in a tension between fear that warns us of danger and fear that holds us hostage in some manner. How do we find the Spirit’s help in facing our fears and finding the freedom to live joyfully and meaningfully?
Scripture: Luke 8.22-30
The passage has two narratives – the storm on the lake and the man named Legion. These are related to two themes that provoke fear in our time. We fear the increased intensity of storms due, in part, to the way we have pumped greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and the oceans. Legion represents people who are possessed by evil in ways that we do not understand. They are unpredictable and violent.
I invite you to feel your way into the two stories. Begin by placing yourself in the boat. The Lake of Galilee is known for sudden, intense storms. Your family were farmers not fishers. You swallowed hard when you got into the boat with the others. The sea was calm. The wind was gentle. Jesus went to a quiet spot on fell asleep. You thought you would be alright.
The storm came unexpectedly out of nowhere. The wind roars and waves swamp over the boat. You are beginning to panic. You are surprised that Jesus seems unaware of the danger. You awake him with the words: “Master. Master. We are perishing.”
Each of us surely can connect with these intense feelings and desperation. In our lives, in different circumstances, at different times, we have felt alone. Dangers have threatened us and God seemed unaware and distant.
We know how the story ends. Jesus calms the storm. The terror passes. He turns to us in the boat and asks about our faith. We feel that he is asking a difficult question: Do we only trust him on the land, in the sunshine? Do we trust him in the storm when we are afraid?
It is striking that Luke only mentions the fear of the disciples at this point in the story. They are afraid and amazed at the authority of Jesus over creation. They do not understand this power.
There are many ways to read this story. Death and the forces of death are all around us. We walk with people through the journey of cancer. We see loved ones threatened by addictions. We fear changes in relationships. We are anxious about finances and debts that need to be paid. Some of us may fear violence even in the relative security of Canada. There are times when we feel that we are perishing.
Please allow me to offer one of my readings. I have a personal perspective on this story that comes from my environmental commitments. I understand that our social and economic system is responsible for:
- Dead zones in the ocean.
- Increasing damage to rivers and lakes.
- The loss of biodiversity and the extinction of species of plants and animals.
- The pumping of hydrocarbons into the air resulting in climate change.
- Threats to future generations.
The gospel narrative reminds me that creation belongs to God. I need to listen deeply to this message. I also need to listen to the scriptures teaching that God gave humans the role as stewards and caretakers of God’s garden. I need to recall that being a caretaker requires prayerful action around issues of consumption, transportation, land use, and sustainable practices. These are matters of faith. This passage calls me to a deeper faith in God as the creator and sustainer of creation. I can only play the role of a servant. The lives of my grandchildren, for whom I fear, is in his hands. .
The boat lands. We move into the country of the Gerasenes. We are in a foreign land across the lake from Galilee. We feel relief when we put our feet on solid land once again. However, we are immediately confronted by Legion. He is frightening in a different manner than the storm. The evil power of Legion is beyond explanation.
People tell us that he once lived in the city. He was a son, a brother, a friend, and a neighbor. Somehow the evil of the times overpowered him. They chained him in an area near the burial ground. People felt secure for a time. But Legion broke through the chains and leather bonds. He would shout and cry uncontrollably. The very name, Legion, reminds us of the cruel power of the Roman army.
You wonder if Legion was a victim of Roman violence. Was he traumatized by the cruelty of Roman soldiers? You also wonder if he once served as a foreign mercenary in Rome’s Legions. Did he commit horrible actions against civilians in the border areas of the empire? Has the trauma driven him deeper into evil?
The demons inside Legion begin to speak. They realize that Jesus is a threat to their existence. They beg him not to send them back to the abyss. The ask Jesus to send them into the pigs. At this point we see the destructive power of evil turning on itself. The pigs run into the lake and drown. But the story is not over. We are witnesses of Legion’s transformation. He is seated at Jesus feet as a learner, a disciple. He is clothed and in his right mind. Legion has been saved or redeemed or restored. He has become the person that he was created to be.
When people come out from the city and the rural areas, they are afraid of Jesus. He has a power that they can neither understand nor manage. They ask him to leave their region.
Let me ask you a question. Is there something here that reminds you of the power of evil in our own time? Immoral displays of power can be terrifying and beyond explanation. These stories come from places like El Salvador, the Great Lakes region of Africa, the Ukraine, and the Middle East. The power of evil is also present in our country Canada. How else do we explain the residential schools, the pass system, and missing and murdered aboriginal women? Evils of the dominant society have deeply wounded indigenous people. At certain times, with certain people, evil can overcome individuals and make them intensely and unpredictably destructive to themselves and to others around them.
When we are confronted by evil, we are inclined to run or to become protective. We may lose our faith that God can transform people like Legion. We may be tempted to hold up a sword rather than the cross.
Let us try to draw some lessons for our walk with Jesus through Lent.
Lesson 1: We are never in control as much as we might want or desire. The chains do not hold Legion. A storm comes out of nowhere. Fear is natural because we are all frail and vulnerable. It helps to accept that reality.
Lesson 2: “Master. Master. We are perishing,” called out the people in the boat. God invites us to express quietly or with loud voices our fears and anxieties. He knows us. He knows our apprehensions and concerns. Prayer is about opening our hearts to God, even the dark places. We are his beloved children. Never forget, you are his beloved.
Lesson 3: Change is Possible. Jesus calmed the storm Legion is transformed. God works in our lives and in our world. Anxieties and fears can hold us back from living passionately, creatively, and fully. God works with us and in us. It might help us to remember that the most repeated command of the scriptures is: Do not fear. This command only makes sense in contexts that provoke fear. Sometimes we simply need to repeat this scripture to ourselves as a mantra. Do not fear. Do not fear. The Risen Lord is with us. Do not fear.
- Breathe slowly. Be comfortable.
- Make a fear inventory. What are the three greatest fears in your life? Offer them to God. In the silence listen for what is the Spirit whispering to your heart?
- Remember a time when you were afraid? Walk through that experience imagining God’s presence. Where was God? What did God want to tell you during that time?
- What grace from God do you seek in the coming days?