Last revised: July 23, 2022
Click reload or refresh for latest version
PROPER 7 (June 19-25) — YEAR C / Ordinary Time 12
RCL: Isaiah 65:1-9; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39
RoCa: Zechariah 12:10-11; Galatians 3:26-29; Luke 9:18-24
Opening Comments: Preaching the Gospel of New Creation
This set of texts includes one of the key narratives upon which René Girard himself shed considerable light. In The Scapegoat, Girard penned a brilliant essay on “The Demons of Gerasa,” (ch. 13, pp. 165-183), which interprets the “Legion” of demons as representing the relationship of all the townspeople of Gerasa to the demoniac as their scapegoat. That’s why the townspeople are so upset with Jesus at the end. He has messed up the comfortable arrangement they had with their scapegoat. Girard’s essay is packed with insights, and many Girardians have also made fruitful contributions to the interpretation of this passage. (See excerpts and a more complete bibliography below.) I’ve chosen to preach on this Gospel Reading several times — such as 1995, “Claiming Your Own Demons,” and 2007, “It Takes a Whole Community to Scapegoat.”
In more recent cycles of the lectionary, however, I’ve felt more compelled to preach on the extremely important text of the Second Reading, Galatians 3:23-29. I have made it a priority — with great reward, I believe — to work my way through Louis Martyn‘s Anchor Bible Commentary on Galatians in its entirety. I explain more fully below (#2 resource under the Second Reading) why I believe Martyn’s commentary synchs well with the anthropology of Mimetic Theory.
When preaching on this particular text I have rung out the theme of the unity of God’s family in the face of our cultural theologies based on gods who are on our group’s side. The main illustration has the gut-wrenching drama of the climactic scene in the PBS show God on Trial. I highly recommend viewing the ten-minute outtake of this scene on YouTube. It’s a fictionalized version of what Elie Wiesel says actually happened at Auschwitz: the Jewish prisoners enact a mock trial accusing Adonai of abandoning the covenant with the Jewish people. As the verdict is about to be read, one of the rabbis, who has remained silent until this point, builds a case that “Adonai our God” was on their side when they inflicted terrible violence on their enemies, but now must have switched sides to be on the side of the Nazis against them. With a theology of gods who are either on our side or against us, what other conclusion could one come to?
The other choice, of course, is to give up that kind of theology with gods of sacred violence who either help us bash our enemies or who side with our enemies in inflicting violence upon us. The alternative is the kind of theology which Paul puts forward in Galatians, the God of Jesus the Messiah who is working to breaking down our barriers of hostility in order to create one new humanity (Eph 2:14-15). When dying and rising with Christ in our baptisms, we are enculturated into a new way of being human for which those Us-Them boundaries no longer exist. We are no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. In short, there is no longer Us and Them, there is only Us. This is the message of my 2016 sermon, “The Radical Oneness of Jesus’s God.”
In 2022, I began with a similar message as 2016, again using the God on Trial scene, but I also found the beginning portion of Galatians 3:23-29 to be of great import to an anthropological revitalization of the Gospel message. In using the word pedagogue regarding the giving of the law of Moses, Paul seems to be framing his understanding of the law in the larger context of our development as a species. Pedagogues generally work with children and adolescents to aid in their growing up. So isn’t Paul implying that human beings have until this point been in an adolescent stage of requiring the law as a pedagogue to help keep them safe as they further mature? And now that Christ has come to fulfill the promise of the law as given to Abraham and Sarah, we finally have a brother who has reached full maturity in his humanity — meaning that we no longer need the law, except as fulfilled in God’s love, to follow Jesus into full maturity in our humanity. I explain this reading a bit more fully below, with excerpts from Martyn, but here is my 2022 sermon, “The Time Is Now to Grow Up as Human Beings!”
1. Michel Serres, “Ego Credo,” an incredible paper on St. Paul, presented at the 2004 COV&R Conference. It is also the lead essay in the 2006 issue of Contagion (Vol. 12-13, pp. 1-12). He begins:
Saint Paul combines in one singular person the three ancient formats, Jewish, Greek and Latin, from which the Western World sprang. . . . Triply formatted in this way, Saint Paul, newly named, rose up out of the trinity of his belonging; he traveled the world over, and he invented the coming era. In so doing, he braved three disasters: the persecution of his fellows, the mockery of Greek philosophers on the Areopagus; and his trial and probable execution by Rome. In and through Paul, all the superior and lasting achievements of the Indo-European and Semitic traditions stem from this original bifurcation; the good news he proclaims is incarnated and grafted in him and through him; in him, the branch of a new creature springs forth. Although his ancient formats imply a belonging to three different communities, the new man identifies with none of them, in order to create something entirely new. But what? (p. 1)
Serres’ answer begins with today’s reading:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek,” says Paul, “there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female” (Revised Standard Version, Gal. 3.28). All he mentions here are classes, sexes, languages, or nations…in short, all categories or groups. What he means is that there is no longer any belonging in the earlier sense, leaving only the identity I=I: “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15.10). For Paul, the only thing left is this “new creature”: I, the adoptive Son of God, through faith in Jesus Christ; I, full of faith and without works, without pride; I, empty, poor, and nothing: universal. (p. 2)
For the full answer, I recommend reading this insightful essay.
2. J. Louis Martyn, Galatians (The Anchor Bible Commentary); this is one of the more important commentaries I’ve come across in support of Mimetic Theory. Martyn cites Robert Hamerton-Kelly’s book on Paul in several places; his familiarity with MT is evident, even if it’s not the dominant lens of interpretation as it is for Hamerton-Kelly. There is nevertheless a decidedly anthropological depth to Martyn’s interpretation of Galatians. One of his main theses is that Paul understands the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be an apocalyptic revelation of religion (Judaism being representative of all religions) as under the power of sin, which he calls “the cosmic antinomy between apocalypse and religion.” By “apocalypse” Martyn means a divine intervention, a revelatory act of God breaking into history. Here, for example, is the first time he raises this thesis in the introduction, commenting on other scholars who entertain the notion that Galatians is anti-Judaic:
For without exception, in the passages listed, as in others, the ruling polarity is not that of Christianity versus Judaism, church versus synagogue. As we will see repeatedly, that ruling polarity is rather the cosmic antinomy of God’s apocalyptic act in Christ versus religion, and thus the gospel versus religious tradition (cf. Comments #10, #13, #43, and #48). (37)
A fuller explication of thesis follows shortly after:
With the advent of Christ, then, the antinomy between apocalypse and religion has been enacted by God once for all. Moreover, this antinomy is central to the way in which Paul does theology in Galatians, not least in connection with one of its major themes, rectification. As the antidote to what is wrong in the world does not lie in religion — religion being one of the major components of the wrong — so the point of departure from which there can be movement to set things right cannot be found in religion; as though, provided with a good religious foundation for a good religious ladder, one could ascend from the wrong to the right. Things are the other way around. God has elected to invade the realm of the wrong — the present evil age” (1:4) — by sending his Son and the Spirit of his Son into it from outside it. This apocalyptic invasion thus shows that to take the Sinaitic Law to the Gentiles — as the Teachers are doing — is to engage in a mission that is marked at its center by the impotence of religion. (39)
One can see this thesis play out in today’s passage. Martyn proposes that Paul is making the radical argument that God did not give the Sinaitic law; it was given by angels to Moses as a temporary pedagogue until the time when the seed of Abraham and Sarah would come who would fulfill the “law” originally given by God to Abraham and Sarah as a promise. For the opposing teachers in the Galatian churches to require observance of the Sinaitic law is thus not only unnecessary, it is also a step backward in human development. The Sinaitic law was only given temporarily to humanity as a pedagogue to see us through our adolescence as a species. Now that Jesus the Messiah has come to enable full maturity in being human, observance of the Sinaitic law is a step backward into less freedom. Martyn writes,
In writing to the Galatians Paul is thinking in a highly concentrated way of Gentile Christians who are being tempted to commence observance of the Law, under the conviction that their incorporation into Christ and their receipt of his Spirit are insufficient to their salvation. The Galatians are being told, that is, that without observance of the Sinaitic Law, they are in mortal danger. The whole of Paul’s complex picture of the Law in Galatians is drawn for that setting. And in that setting Paul sees that, when Gentiles take up observance of the Law, after having been baptized into Christ, they return to the slavery that characterizes all religion as such (4:8-11). For Gentiles Law observance is a religion, and nothing other than that. (369)
The church, then, does not represent a new religion but rather the new human family promised to Abraham and Sarah, in which there no longer exists the old lines of demarcation that all human religions and cultures have previously been structured by. Christian identity, through the dying and rising of baptism, manifests a unity for which there is ‘no longer Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female.’ Here is Martyn’s concluding words on this passage:
The church, in short, is a family made up of former Jews and former Gentiles, not an enlarged version of a family that already exists. Thus, neither in Paul’s mouth nor in the mouth of the formula’s author is the baptismal liturgy a rallying cry in favor of a new religion, Christianity, and against an older one, Judaism. What is new is not another subset in the category of religion, and thus a new religion in competition with an older one. What is new is the new corporate person, as the final clause of the formula shows (v 28b). It is Christ and the community of those incorporated into him who lie beyond religious distinctions.
Given the widespread and comforting view that true religion provides the dependable map to the world and to one’s place in the world, it can be no surprise that the nonreligious, unified life in Christ involves a real death, and specifically the baptizand’s participation in Christ’s death (Gal 2:19-20; 5:24; Rom 6:3-4). The motif of invasion (Comment #37) is death-dealing in order to be life-giving. . . .
For the old pairs of opposites are not discrete sins to be washed away or simply renounced. They are the basic building blocks of a cosmos from which one is now painfully separated by death. In this way, baptism is a participation both in Christ’s death and in Christ’s life; for genuine, eschatological life commences when one is taken into the community of the new creation in which unity in God’s Christ has replaced religious-ethnic differentiation. In a word, religious and ethnic differentiations and that which underlies them — the Law — are identified in effect as “the old things” that have now “passed away,” giving place to the new creation (2 Cor 5:17). (382-83)
3. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, Sacred Violence, pp. 76, 142, 157. Here is the comment from p. 76: “As soon as the Law is superseded by the “revelation of faith” (Gal. 3:23), distinctions based on the order of the Sacred should disappear.”
4. Andrew Marr, Abbot of St. Gregory’s Abbey (Three Rivers, MI) is a long-time reader and writer on Mimetic Theory and in his blog, “Imaginary Visions of True Peace,” reviewed in 2013 Brigitte Kahl‘s Galatians Re-Imagined, with an excellent summary of this groundbreaking book: “‘Stupid’ Galatians, Stupid Us.”
5. Raymund Schwager, Jesus in the Drama of Salvation, pp. 144, 228. Here is the citation on p. 144:
Despite the concrete problems, the gathering of the faithful aimed at overcoming social, linguistic, gender, and religious barriers. The Acts of the Apostles emphasizes that all were “together” (Acts 2:46) and “of one heart and soul” (Acts 4:32), and according to Paul there is “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female,” since all are “one in Christ” (Gal. 3:28). What was behind this concern for unity was not merely the realization of a noble ethical ideal; far more crucial was that this was how God’s plan for salvation was being fulfilled. The new gathering, which Jesus had begun with the message of the kingdom of God, had initially broken down because of people’s resistance. There was even a counter-gathering, a cooperation of different forces against God’s messenger, which Jesus answered with the surrender of his life for the many. The new post-Easter gathering — and the Spirit which made it possible — is to be understood as the fruit of this surrender. The heavenly Father answered the rejection of his Son and the Son’s obedience in a double fashion: through the resurrection of the crucified one and through the sending of the Spirit into those for whom the crucified one surrendered himself. The realization which emerged from consideration of the glossolalia, that pneumatic experience did not primarily come from outside but sprang from the disciples’ inner selves, thus has a deep significance. Because the crucified one let himself be drawn into the dark world of his adversaries, far from God, and there lived out his obedience to the Father, the deep godless realms of the human heart themselves became the place where the divine spirit can from now on reach and touch people. The Pentecostal gathering is for that reason not merely an outward gathering; the visible coming together of the faithful is only a sign, intelligible to our world, of that unification which, starting from the cross, finds fulfillment in the depths of people’s hearts through the sending out of the Spirit. (pp. 144-145)
Reflections and Questions
1. Verse 27 — “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” — might link up in an interesting way with the theme of being clothed in the Gospel: “they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind” (Luke 8:35).
1. The story of the Gerasene demoniac is a classic illustration of Girardian interdividual psychology, namely, that our psyches are functions of the Other. René Girard has a brilliant essay on this story which is well-worth looking up, ch. 13, “The Demons of Gerasa,” The Scapegoat, pp. 165-183. This is the only time this story appears in the lectionary, and it is only in the Revised Common Lectionary. (It never appears in the Catholic lectionary.)
There is an important detail in the Markan account that is crucial to Girard’s overall reading: “Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones” (Mark 5:5). It is the stoning himself that catches Girard’s eye:
Notice the mimetic character of this behavior. As if he is trying to avoid being expelled and stoned in reality, the possessed brings about his own expulsion and stoning; he provides a spectacular mime of all the stages of punishment that Middle Eastern societies inflict on criminals whom they consider completely defiled and irredeemable. First, the man is hunted, then stoned, and finally he is killed; this is why the possessed lived among the tombs. The Gerasenes must have some understanding of why they are reproached or they would not respond as they do. Their mitigated violence is an ineffective protest. Their answer is: “No, we do not want to stone you because we want to keep you near us. No ostracism hangs over you.” Unfortunately, like anyone who feels wrongfully yet feasibly accused, the Gerasenes protest violently, they protest their good faith with violence, thereby reinforcing the terror of the possessed. Proof of their awareness of their own contradiction lies in the fact that the chains are never strong enough to convince their victim of their good intentions toward him. The violence of the Gerasenes is hardly reassuring for the possessed. Reciprocally, the violence of the possessed disturbs the Gerasenes. As always, each one tries to end violence with a violence that should be definitive but instead perpetuates the circularity of the process. A symmetry can be seen in all these extremes, the self-laceration and the running among the tombs on the one hand, the grandiloquent chains on the other. There is a sort of conspiracy between the victim and his torturers to keep the balance in the game because it is obviously necessary to keep the balance of the Gerasene community. (The Scapegoat, pp. 170-171)
But the element of stoning is not the only reproduction of archaic execution. The pigs run off of a cliff. In Luke’s Gospel, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Nazareth ends with a near getting run off the cliff. Many critics notice the geographical inaccuracy, that there aren’t any cliffs in or around Nazareth. Girard notices something else:
Unfortunately, critics who have noticed this geographic inaccuracy were never curious enough to discover why Luke endowed the town of Nazareth with a nonexistent cliff. The Gospels are too interested in the diverse forms of collective death to be interested in the topography of Nazareth. Their real concern is with the demon’s self-lapidation and the fall of the herd of pigs from the cliff. But in these cases it is not the scapegoat who goes over the cliff, neither is it a single victim nor a small number of victims, but a whole crowd of demons, two thousand swine possessed by demons. Normal relationships are reversed. The crowd should remain on top of the cliff and the victim fall over; instead, in this case, the crowd plunges and the victim is saved. The miracle of Gerasa reverses the universal schema of violence fundamental to all societies of the world. The inversion appears in certain myths but not with the same characters; it always ends in the restoration of the system that had been destroyed or in the establishment of a new system. In this case the result is quite different. The drowning of the swine has a definitive character; it is an event without a future, except for the person cured by the miracle. This text suggests a difference not of degree but of nature between Jesus’ miracle and the usual healings. . . .
If need be, the demons will tolerate being expelled provided they are not expelled from their country. This would seem to mean that ordinary exorcisms are always only local displacements, exchanges, and substitutions which can always be produced within a structure without causing any appreciable change or compromising the continuation of the whole society. Traditional cures have a real but limited action to the degree that they only improve the condition of individual X at the expense of another individual, Y, or vice versa. In the language of demonology, this means that the demons of X have left him to take possession of Y. The healers modify certain mimetic relationships, but their little manipulations do not compromise the balance of the system, which remains unchanged. The system remains and should be defined as a system not of men only but of men and their demons.
This total system is threatened by the cure of the possessed and the concomitant drowning of the Legion. Because the Gerasenes suspect this they are uneasy. The demons have an even clearer understanding….
. . . In showing us the demons begging Jesus not to send them forever into the abyss, he clearly articulates the definitive annihilation of the demoniac that is the major significance of the text and explains the reaction of the Gerasenes themselves. These unfortunate people fear that their precarious balance depends on the demoniac, on the activities they share periodically and on the kind of local celebrity their possessed citizen had become.
There is nothing in the possession that does not result from frantic mimeticism. Hence the variant in Matthew that substitutes two possessed beings that are indistinguishable, and therefore mimetic, for the solitary demoniac of the other two Gospels. Mark’s text expresses basically the same thing, less obviously but therefore more essentially, by presenting his single person possessed by a demon that is both one and multiple, both singular and plural. This implies that the possessed is possessed not by only one other, as Matthew suggests, but by all the others inasmuch as they are both one and many, or in other words inasmuch as they form a society in the human sense of the term. This is also the demonic sense, if one prefers, in that it is a society based on the collective expulsion. This is precisely what the possessed is imitating. The demons are in the image of the human group; they are the imago of this group because they are its imitatio. Like the society of the Gerasenes at the end of our text, the society of demons at the beginning possesses a structure, a kind of organization; it is the unity of the multiple: “My name is Legion; for there are many of us.” Just as one voice is raised at the end to speak in the name of all the Gerasenes, one voice is raised at the beginning to speak in the name of all the demons. These two voices say the same thing. Since all coexistence between Jesus and the demons is impossible, to beg him not to chase away the demons, when one is a demon is the same as begging him to depart, if one is from Gerasa. (pp. 179-180, 181-182)
It is worthwhile concluding these excerpts by emphasizing what to me is the crucial insight, namely, the reversal which Jesus works. But Girard also goes one step further by asking if this reversal satisfies an inch for vengeance:
Yet in the account of Gerasa the lynchers experience the treatment “normally” reserved for the victim. They are not stoned like the possessed, but they go over the steep bank, which amounts to the same thing. If we are to recognize how revolutionary this inversion is we must transport it to classical Greek or Roman antiquity, which is more respected than the Judaic world of the Bible. Imagine the Pharmakos forcing the inhabitants of a Greek city, philosophers and mathematicians alike, over a precipice. Instead of the outcast being toppled from the height of the Tarpeian rock it is the majestic consuls, virtuous Cato, solemn juriconsults, the procurators of Judea, and all the rest of the senatus populusque romanus. All of them disappear into the abyss while the ex-victim, “clothed and in his full senses” calmly observes from above the astounding sight. The miracle’s conclusion satisfies a certain appetite for revenge, but can it be justified within the framework of my hypothesis? Does the element of revenge compromise my thesis that the spirit of revenge is absent in the Gospels? What is the force that drives the pigs into the sea of Galilee if not our desire to see them fall or the violence of Jesus himself? What can motivate a whole herd of pigs to destroy themselves without being forced by someone? The answer is obvious. It is the crowd mentality, that which makes the herd precisely a herd — in other words, the irresistible tendency to mimeticism. One pig accidentally falling into the sea, or the convulsions provoked by the demonic invasion, is enough to cause a stupid panic in which all the others follow. The frantic following fits well with the proverbial stubbornness of the species. Beyond a certain mimetic threshold, the same that defined possession earlier, the whole herd immediately repeats any conduct that seems out of the ordinary, like fashions in modern society. (p. 182)
In short, Girard’s answer to the question of vengeance is an answer common to mimetic theory: there is self-condemning behavior, not a divine act of vengeance on the wicked. Mimetic rivalry brings its own bad ends.
2. James Alison, Faith Beyond Resentment, ch. 6, “Clothed and in His Right Mind,” is based on the story of the Gerasene Demoniac. Alison gives a brilliant reading of the parable — indebted, as he notes, to Girard’s reading in The Scapegoat. But then he also makes a moving application of his reading to his own experience, and to his task in this book of offering theological reflections from his perspective as a gay man. Here are several chapters from the middle of this chapter, to whet your appetite:
Now it is obvious that I am offering you a story on which to feed, one I hope may spark off resonances in stories of your own. Nevertheless there is something odd about this story being able to be told at all, and I want to bring that strangeness out before I move on. Imagine that you are in the world of the Gerasenes before Jesus comes along, whether as one of the townspeople or as a demoniac. You are not stupid, or primitive — whatever that means. You are just used to the daily run of your culture. You are used to negotiating living day in and day out within the strengths and limitations of your group. You share both adherence to, and scepticism about, its gods, its taboos, its sacred barriers. Like most people in most societies you both go along with and yet relativize, approve of and yet resent, the structures which give meaning to your life.
Yet there is one thing you cannot do: whether you are a townsperson or the demoniac, you cannot imagine the innocence of the demoniac. The structure which holds everything together is relatively tolerant, as is the case in most human groups. It is fairly ready to turn a blind eye to a whole lot of failings, indeed has mechanisms for reincorporating those who fail. Yet there is one point where this apparently easy-going form of life is implacably totalitarian, where there is a definition of good and evil which cannot be overturned. It never crosses your mind to question it, and indeed it cannot really be talked about, since it is what allows other things to be talked about and given value. This immutable fact which the group’s imagination cannot conceive in any other way is the definition of the demoniac as demoniac. Before the arrival of Jesus, whether you are a townsperson, or the demoniac, you are all fundamentally yet tacitly agreed on what holds the whole of your order together. You are a participant in a closed system. And of course participants in a closed system do not know that they are in a closed system. It is only the vantagepoint of a system that does not depend on a hidden but secretly-structuring scapegoat which enables us to detect other systems as closed. Before the arrival of Jesus on the shores of Gerasa, such a vantagepoint was not available to you.
If someone had come along and said “Well, of course, your demoniac is really innocent, and all he’s doing is acting out what all of you are dumping on him,” you would resist this violently. It would be inconceivable to you that such a person was anything other than a troublemaker, someone who wanted to disturb order and subvert morality. The key word here is “inconceivable.” The notion is not one you could imagine, let alone tolerate. You would read the claim entirely from within your own group structure, and would reject it as impossible. So impossible that it could not really be talked about at all. In fact, you wouldn’t need to talk about it. All you would need to do is point to the indisputable evidence of the evil and craziness of your demoniac. Something there is clearly wrong.
Now the reason I ask you imaginatively to inhabit the world of the Gerasenes before Jesus’ arrival is that it highlights the vulnerability of my own story, the one I have been telling you. I have been telling you, as a gay man talking to a group of gay people, a story which relativizes an implacably totalitarian structure. My point is that unless we understand a little that what I am doing is, from the point of view of our fellow Gerasenes, impossible, we won’t sink into and inhabit the depth of the impossibility of the story which we are being empowered to tell, and we won’t have access to the novelty of God, nor understand the potency which palpitates in the naming of God as one for whom nothing is impossible.
Jesus did not come and give the Gerasenes a lecture on the structure of their society. He didn’t argue with them about definitions. He didn’t propose an alternative form of legislation. He did something much more three-dimensional. He empowered the demoniac to become a human being, sitting, clothed and in his right mind, going home to his friends.
My claim is that it is only possible for a gay man to talk to other gay people, reasonably and quietly, if we have already begun to be overtaken by the power of the Creator, who is already beginning to humanize us, give us right minds, and enable us to be at home with our friends. In other words, the very fact of our being able to talk like this, here, today, is entirely dependent on something huge, quiet, and unimaginable already happening. Very God of Very God is already, even as we speak, “doing something new,” speaking to us in tones and at a depth which our former belonging could never reach, and in a way which our former groups can find nothing other than inconceivable and scandalous: calling us into peaceful and gratuitous human being. (pp. 131-133)
3. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, The Gospel and the Sacred; his commentary on the Markan parallel (Mark 5:1-20) is as follows:
The demoniac is a classic scapegoat figure. He dwells among the tombs and wanders the mountainsides wounding himself and howling. No chains can bind and no man subdue him. He is possessed by a legion of demons, and legion is the mob of his persecutors. He carries his persecutors inside himself in the classic mode of the victim who internalizes his tormentors. He even mimes the lapidation by which he was driven out, compulsively belaboring himself with stones and crying his own rejection. He imitates his persecutors to the extent that he becomes his own executioner in the mode of self-estrangement characteristic of the mimetic crisis. The legion of demons is, therefore, the lynch mob. The demons recognize Jesus as their nemesis and try to persuade him not to expel them from the system of violence altogether, but merely to transfer them from one location to another. To do this would be to manage violence by means of violence within the closed sacrificial system. Jesus, however, removes them altogether by sending them into the swine, which, contrary to the demons” expectation, rush into the lake and drown. The herd of two thousand swine is an eloquent symbol of the mob in pursuit of a victim. The herd’s drowning means that violence ceases when the mob disappears. The order of expectation is reversed and instead of the victim going over the cliff the mob goes over!
We are reminded of the Tarpeian rock in Rome from which the condemned were pushed to their death, and that the Nazarenes, according to Luke (4:29), intended to hurl Jesus over a cliff, while Matthew (13:57) and Mark (6:3) say simply that they were “scandalized” by him. Execution by precipitation and scandal are traces of the GMSM [Generative Mimetic Scapegoating Mechanism, Hamerton-Kelly’s acronym for the Satanic powers]. The water that the swine splash into is the standard symbol of undifferentiation, and the cliff over which they pour is the Tarpeian rock of precipitation. Thus, the demons, who are really the internalized crowd, fall victim to their own designs and tumble headlong into chaos.
When the swineherds report to the city and its environs, the populace comes out and begs Jesus to leave. The people do not want their scapegoats returned, and they do not want to see themselves as a swinish mob. They fear the revealer because he threatens the order of Gadarene complacency and deprives them of the comfort of the scapegoat. They do not want to break their conspiracy: rather, they want the scapegoat to remain in the shadows of the cemetery as a depository for their violence and a guarantee of their complacency. The fact that they had tried to chain him shows how much they needed him. They recognize the threat Jesus poses to the Sacred they inhabit, and they send him away.
Jesus acquiesces in their request that he go, but he does not leave without a trace. He sends the victim back, refusing his request to join the entourage. He sends him back to his home with instructions to tell his own people “how much the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you” (5:19). The response of people to his message, however, is merely to “wonder,” a response that does not indicate any real understanding. Nevertheless, from now on they have in their midst a constant reminder of an alternative to the order of violence in the restored and reintegrated victim whom Jesus rescued from the mob in himself and the mob in the city of Gadara. (pp. 93-94)
4. Anthony Bartlett, Virtually Christian: How Christ Changes Human Meaning and Makes Creation New, pp. 253-58.
5. James Warren, Compassion or Apocalypse, chapter 9 is devoted to the story of the Gerasene Demoniac.
6. James Alison, Jesus the Forgiving Victim, pp. 275-280 — similar to his treatment in Faith Beyond Resentment.
7. Gil Bailie, “The Gospel of Luke” audio series, end of tape #4. Here are my notes / transcription for this portion of the lecture. There are now posts of audio excerpts of these lectures: “Poetry of Truth,” Part 27 and Part 28.
- Reads vs. 26-27: This man is the living dead. He has no clothes and lives in the tombs.
- Vs. 28: “When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?'”
- This is a tremendously powerful question, for this man, as we will find out, is what the Greeks called the pharmakos, i.e., the designated outcast who makes the system work. In family psycho-dynamics, we call this the “black sheep,” the one who becomes the worry-wort for everyone else — therefore, everybody can have their problems gravitate over to this one figure — a form of hygiene. Everybody else gets to feel better about themselves, because of this fellow. This man is the designated outcast of this community. He’s the lowest person in the community, the periodic scapegoat, the key to their social functioning.
- Notice that Jesus doesn’t walk into Gerasa and ask to see the mayor. Who does he see? Who come up to him immediately but the town scapegoat, saying to him, ‘What have you, Son of the Most High God, to do with me?’ Jesus is both: Son of the Most High God, but also the scapegoat.
- Verse 28b-29: “‘I beg you, do not torment me’ — for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.)” This guy is the kept scapegoat. Periodically, at the promptings of his own madness, or the promptings of his community, or some combination of the two, he goes into his fit. It’s repetitive; it’s ritualistic. He breaks his bonds, runs naked into the cemetery, carrying with him the community’s craziness.
- Verses 30-31: “Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Legion’; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.”
- There’s a question of singular or plural. ‘Legion’ means ‘crowd,’ ‘mob.’ This demon’s name is Mob. It’s an undifferentiated crowd. Who’s the constituting Other? Every one of us has a constituting Other — no doubt, a cluster of constituting Others.
- For biblical monotheists, our primary constituting Other is supposed to be the one God; but, instead, we have many Others. This man is crazy because the constituting Other is a Crowd. A lot of moderns are crazy for more or less the same reason.
- Behind this question, ‘What is your name?’, is the answer, ‘I am the Other,’ and the Other is the Crowd. This man is a tool of the Crowd. He is possessed.
- We don’t appreciate possession. Jean-Michel Oughourlian has done a marvelous job in his book The Puppet of Desire: the cure for possession is possession [being possessed by Christ, i.e., having Christ live in us, ala St. Paul].
- Verses 32-33: “Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.”
- Girard brings out in his analysis that this is the reversal of the signs. In Luke 4, Jesus is speaking to his hometown crowd, telling them how Elijah reached out to the foreign widow and how Elisha healed the foreign leper, and they became enraged, pushing him out of the synagogue and seeking to hurl him off a cliff. This is a pre-figuration of the crucifixion. Being hurled off a cliff is an ancient form of collective scapegoating, in which no one person is even designated as the executioner. Here, you have the same thing except the signs are reversed. The scapegoat is rescued, and the Crowd goes off the cliff. It’s the same mechanism but the reversal of signs. Something is breaking down.
- By the way, the element of the swine is important. Pigs are unclean animals; the possessed man is unclean. So there is a sort of symmetry there.
- Verses 34-35: “When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 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.”
- Notice that the swineherds aren’t upset about the economics. They don’t run to Jesus asking for compensation for their livelihood. That doesn’t seem to be what has made them upset. We seem to think everything has to do with economics, exploitation, and so forth. But the issue here is more profound than that. They run off to tell the town about their scapegoat.
- As we said, the cure to possession is possession. This man who has been liberated from the demons is not filling his briefcase to go back to the office. He’s sitting at the feet of Jesus. The cure is right there. That’s what Christian conversion is. It cures us at the core of our being with a constituting Other who is the Risen Christ.
- In his right mind. He’s now saner than the rest of the Gerasenes now.
- The Gerasenes come to see this man clothed and in his right mind, and they are afraid. Why are they afraid?
- [Referring to an earlier part of the lecture, regarding a New York Times article:] For the same reasons as those nations who are trying to black-ball human rights organizations from coming into their countries [and confronting them with their scapegoating behaviors]. They intuit — not realize in a conscious sense — that the lynchpin, pun intended, of their whole cultural apparatus has just been eliminated. He’s sitting there in his right mind.
- Verses 36-37: “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.” Jesus had gone right into that community, he had gone right up to the one who had been at the heart of their cultural apparatus, and he restored him to lucidity and life. One would think, ‘Well, that’s a great thing!’ But the whole community want Jesus out, in the same way that those cluster of nations wants to keep the human rights organizations out of their nations.
- Simeon in Luke 2:34-35 says, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed….” When the Gerasenes ask Jesus to leave, that is the beginning of a revealing of their inner thoughts. They would not have asked Jesus to leave if they had not known, at some level, what you cannot know and still be able to live inside a conventional sacrificial culture. They knew, at some level, that Jesus was interrupting the social mechanism on which they depended. They are beginning to recognize that there is such a social mechanism, which is the beginning of the end of that mechanism. This is a fulfillment of the prophecy of Simeon.
- It’s also a parable for the way the Gospel works in history.
8. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, and sermon from June 20, 2010 (Society of St. John at St. Mark’s Chapel, Palo Alto).
9. Andrew Marr, Abbot of St. Gregory’s Abbey (Three Rivers, MI) is a long-time reader and writer on Mimetic Theory and in his blog, “Imaginary Visions of True Peace,” made these reflections on this passage in 2013, “Dispossessing a Town Possessed.”
10. Sermons/blogs from a Girardian perspective by members and friends of Theology & Peace: Russ Hewett, a blog in 2016, “The Return of the Scapegoat: A Literary Reading of the Man of the Gadarenes“; Tom Truby, a sermon in 2019, “Demoniac Voices Thrown Out.”
Reflections and Questions
1. In 2013, a group lectio divina of this text during the week brought to mind depression and the epidemic of mental illness we are experiencing in our time. How many people you know are on meds to address brain chemistry in some fashion? We address the way in which our oppressive scapegoat structuring is changing our brains and making more and more of us sick, but we don’t address the oppressiveness of consumer culture itself. As so often happens, we are treating the symptoms and not the cause. We live in a time when our consumerist version of capitalism puts us under the weight and strain of constant mimetic rivalry with the Gospel diminishment of the Scapegoating Mechanism crippling its ability to lighten the burden — and it’s making us crazy. The only true solution at this point is to except the offer of healing from Jesus himself.
The bottom line is this: Jesus was offering healing to the townspeople of Gerasa, too, but they rejected it, rejected Jesus. They were afraid of the healing which Jesus offered them. They preferred their sick structure of oppression. Will it be any different in the 21st Century?
2. In 1995, before Lutherans switched to the Revised Common Lectionary, the story of the Gerasene demoniac didn’t appear in the Lutheran Lectionary, so I took the opportunity during a midweek Lent series on the theme of “From Brokenness to Healing” to try a monologue sermon telling this story. I used the Girardian analysis to tell the story in the first person as if it was a modern story. Link to the sermon entitled “Claiming Your Own Demons.” In 2007 I used the some of the core of the 1995, minus the monologue format, and added the issue of racism as an example of the scapegoating structure of human community, in the sermon “It Takes a Whole Community to Scapegoat.”
3. Jesus saves the demoniac from his fate as the scapegoat of his townspeople. Yet he will not ultimately save himself from being the scapegoat of his people on the cross. Why? Isn’t it because the cross is ultimately aimed at saving all of us from our scapegoating structures? Jesus could not in his earthly life go around saving every scapegoat everywhere and at all times. But in giving himself up to our scapegoating structures, and in God’s raising him from the dead, Christ is the first-fruits of a time when all scapegoating will be forever overturned. As the Christ, Jesus gives himself up to our scapegoat structures in order to ultimately free us from them.
But what does this mean for the meantime? What do we do in between the first-fruits and their fulfillment? Is it not standing by those who continue to be the victims of our comfortable scapegoating structures? The poor? The least, the last, the lost, the lonely?