To Hell and Back

As for the reflection, this Sunday has an extremely interesting passage (Luke 8:26-39)—the Gerasene Demoniac. There are so many interesting aspects of this passage, but the one I wanted to reflect on is location. Luke’s version of this story is very specific about this. Jesus travels across the sea of Galilee to find this man. This is not unlike saying that he went over to the wrong side of the railroad tracks. Gerasene was a gentile village, it was unclean and would’ve been off limits to a rabbi. Next, Jesus encounters a man who has been living in a graveyard—unclean! Next, that area is also being used to heard pigs—unclean! Next, the man is known to be possessed—unclean! What we are being told here, is that Jesus is heading to the last place that he ought to be hanging out, to find this man.

 

One interesting thing that I heard this time as I read the story again this; this time in the Common English Bible version. Most of the time, the way that the story is translated it sounds like Jesus is casting the demon out before the conversation ensues. “28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!”

29 For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man.” (NIV) However, I noticed that the CEB makes it sound more like Jesus may have met this man before, and was coming to cast out the demon again. “’What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” 29 He said this because Jesus had already commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man.” (CEB) The Greek isn’t exactly clear about the timeline and both readings are possible.

 

If, indeed, this is a second encounter, there is a really powerful message here—Jesus traveled to the worst possible place imaginable for a Rabbi in order to find this particular man and heal him again! Jesus goes to more than extraordinary lengths to find this man and to heal this man. What a powerful message about the love and grace of God!

 

Not only that, but what a message for us. When we find ourselves in the very worst of places or circumstances, that may just be exactly where we need to be to be found by Christ.

 

I had always disliked the phrase that was officially added to the Apostle’s Creed in the 8th century “[Jesus] he descended into Hell, and on the third day rose again.” You see, the story on that is about a particularly nasty kind of theology that was popular at the time—Christus Victor. Under this line of thinking, Christ went to Hell after his death in order to do battle with Satan, and burst the gates of Hell to let the prisoners free. This particular theology was very militant, violent, and bloody, and focused on a continual kind of divine battle between Christ and the devil. There may be a place for this kind of metaphorical imagery about the person of Christ; however, this has all kinds of theological problems, not the least of which is that it is incredibly imperialistic and completely misrepresents the Christ that forfeited his life for us, rather than take up the sword.

 

When I came to Covenant, fresh out of seminary, I had trouble uttering that line of the Apostle’s Creed. Catherine Robinson pointed out, that the original meaning may have been poorly thought out and misleading, but the message for us now is powerful. There isn’t any place Christ won’t go to bring us the love and grace of God! When we find ourselves in the depths of our own personal Hell’s we aren’t there alone. We stand there with Christ by our side. We stand there loved. We stand there with grace. Just like the Gerasene demoniac, who was sought out in the worst of places to be brought back into community, Christ will search each of us out as well, even if it leads him into hell with us. Needless to say, those wise words from Catherine have stuck with me, and I am no longer troubled by those words from the Apostle’s Creed.

 

Where do you find yourself upon reading this? Perhaps not the depths of hell. Perhaps not a graveyard full of pigs. However, I would be willing to guess, you have found yourself in some pretty unfortunate places and circumstances before, and maybe you find yourself there now. The Good News, is that wherever you may be, you are not beyond the love and grace of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Never forget, that the worst depths of Hell aren’t even out of bounds for Christ—he will come for you with open arms, ready to embrace you with the love and grace of God!

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