“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you” (Luke 8:39a).
In today’s lessons (RCL) there are accounts of people who have a personal experience of God — and, in one case, believe that they do but are tragically mistaken. Even for those whose experience is genuine, things do not turn out as they hope or expect. In the lesson from 1 Kings, Elijah has just won a spectacular victory for the Lord, standing alone with amazing faithfulness and confidence against 450 prophets of a pagan religion. The people of God had refused to make a commitment to the Lord or even support
Elijah until his victory had been achieved. Certainly it was reasonable, then, for Elijah to expect some sort of powerful public commendation from God after his jubilant triumph, or even a determined turning away from the severe persecution that Jezebel and Ahab had been executing for years against the faithful. But on the contrary, Elijah’s life is threatened and he is forced to flee into the desert.
Elijah is understandably discouraged and depressed. In conditions similar to those of Moses’ encounter with God, the Lord speaks beyond expectation and through disappointment, uttering words of enormous power and importance, made all the more impressive for being spoken in a whisper.
A whisper is a most intimate, personal style of speaking, in some ways more urgent than the overwhelming manifestations Moses knew but which in today’s lessons are expressly described as being void of the divine voice. Elijah, initially gravely disappointed by God’s failure to act after his public victory, is in fact far more deeply empowered than he had expected. In sharp contrast, those who believe themselves to be so holy that they warn people away (Isaiah 65:5a) are thoroughly deluded and miss God’s personal invitation to know him. Their disobedience to God has blinded and deafened them to the genuinely holy.
In the gospel, Jesus delivers a man who is so far gone that his will is all but destroyed. The man cannot even speak in his own name but is only able to fall down before Jesus. Even his appeal makes no sense: “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me” (Luke 8:28). The words are a mishmash of human appeal and demonic fear. It is noteworthy that what is left of the possessed man is infinitesimal, but even that is sufficient for Jesus to enact his deliverance. Just the slightest desire on the man’s part is enough for the Savior to rescue him.
Look It Up
Look up the unusual response of the demoniac man’s townspeople to his deliverance (Luke 8:37) and consider what it might mean.
Think About It
In today’s gospel there is one who begged to be one of Jesus’ disciples but whom Jesus redirected to preach the gospel to his hometown. Reflect on why Jesus may have done so.