who is this Jesus? a healer of the soul

preaching a sermon, based on Luke 8.26-39, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, June 19, 2016

Today, we offer the fourth and final meditation in answer to the question: Who is this Jesus?

Over the past three Sundays, a healer of the body, as Jesus cured the servant of the Roman centurion,[1] a healer of the dead, as Jesus raised to life the dead son of the widow of Nain,[2] and a healer of sin, as Jesus spoke a word of divine pardon, “Your sins are forgiven,” to the woman who crashed the party of Simon the Pharisee.[3]

Jesus climbs into a boat, saying to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.”[4] Encountering a windstorm, they are on the brink of drowning when Jesus calms the tempest. The disciples, “afraid and amazed,” ask “one another, ‘Who is this who commands the winds and the water, and they obey him?’”[5]

Fresh from this experience of nature’s fury, they step (I imagine, shakily) onto the land of the Gerasenes and shockingly into the anguished, angry face of a man sick of soul. Possessed, driven by demons into the wilderness, naked, unchained, unbound, incapable of sense or civility, and, though knowing who Jesus is, desiring no help or healing, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” Clearly, Jesus also knew whom he confronted, for he had disturbed the demon, demanding that it depart.

There’s more. “Me” is “they”, for the demon is a multitude whose name is “Legion.”

There’s more. “They”, confronted by the Son of the Most High God, paraphrasing Martin Luther, know their “doom is sure,”[6] for they cannot withstand Jesus’ command. Resigned to their fate of relinquishing their possession of the man’s soul, they negotiate with Jesus, bidding he not send them back to the abyss of divine incarceration for demonic forces.[7] Yet, allowed by Jesus to enter a herd of pigs, the frenzied animals rush into the lake and drown, taking the demons to the very place they did not desire to go.

Christ healing the demoniac of the Gerasenes (Christ guérissant le démoniaque des Gadaréniens) (1886-1896), James Tissot (1836-1902)

There’s more. He, the man no longer possessed by “they”, is clothed both in body and, “in his right mind,” in soul.

Who is this Jesus? The One of whom the spiritual sings:

There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;

There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.

I do not know anyone who believes in demonic possession, but I would not be surprised if someone does. Indeed, so Paul counseled the Christians in Ephesus that their earthly conflicts in holding fast to the gospel of Jesus had supernatural origins: “Our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against… the cosmic powers…(and) spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places.”[8]

I do believe each of us knows and, perhaps, we have been those who are susceptible to substance abuse and afflicted by addictions of one sort or another. Or we know or perhaps have been those beset by mental illness and not always in right mind. We cannot, we dare not judge any so afflicted, whether others or ourselves. Rather let us alway pray that Jesus, the balm of Gilead, through all earthly and heavenly means, heal them, heal us, bring them, bring us to all soundness and wholeness of health.

I also believe we know and doubtless we, at one time or another, have been those possessed by the emotional demons of disorienting fear in the face of the threat of grave loss of health or life or debilitating anger, bitterness, and an inability to forgive as a result of being hurt in the worst way. Again, let us judge not, but rather alway pray for the healing balm of Jesus.

And I believe that last Sunday morning’s murders and woundings of our sisters and brothers in Orlando, Florida, and of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Charleston, South Carolina, the first anniversary of which we commemorated two days ago, both at the hands of men bearing guns and possessed of hostilities unrestrained by reason and unconstrained by the law are cruelest manifestations of the presence and power of evil. And though, yes, we may judge those men who chose to be killers as wicked beyond redeeming, let us, trusting in the loving justice and just love of God, leave their souls to divine judgment. In that same trust, let us lend all of our spiritual energies in praying for the eternal repose of the dead and for the solace of strength and the strength of solace for the bereaved and, in our day and time and space, in being ever ready to reach out to all around us in their suffering, holding in our hearts and in our hands the healing balm of Gilead.


Illustration: Christ healing the demoniac of the Gerasenes (Christ guérissant le démoniaque des Gadaréniens) (1886-1896), James Tissot (1836-1902)


[1] Luke 7:1-10

[2] Luke 7:11-17

[3] Luke 7:36-8:3

[4] Luke 8.22

[5] Luke 8.25

[6] A reference to the hymn, A mighty fortress is our God, verse 3: “…the prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo! his doom is sure…”

[7] See Jude 1.6 and Revelation 9.1-11; 20.1-3

[8] Ephesians 6.12

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