Bible Readings – I Kings 19: 1 – 15 & Luke 8: 26 – 39
St Teresa of Avila spent many years of her ministry travelling to fulfil the work God had given her to do. The work of founding and reforming convents. On one occasion, when she was at the end of her tether with weariness, her carriage broke down and abruptly stopped and she was cast bodily into the mud! She was reported to have shouted at God:
“No wonder you have so few friends when you treat them so badly!”
Thinking about Elijah’s situation in our reading today, I wonder if he felt the same? This giant of a prophet had previously won a victory over the prophets of Baal at Mt Carmel, but we find him in the very next chapter of I Kings ‘on the run’ from his opponent, King Ahab’s wife, Queen Jezebel. At this point in his ministry, Elijah is quite frankly ready to give up the struggle. To lose his faith, perhaps. Have you ever felt like that? I guess, if we are honest, most of us have, whether ordained, an office holder in the church or whatever. Elijah no longer wanted to be God’s prophet since, clearly, God did not know how to treat his friends! Elijah left his servant at Beersheba and journeyed further into the wilderness for a personal and private audience with God. Jezebel would not be allowed the personal satisfaction of assassinating him. However, Elijah craved his own death at the hand of God instead. The words of someone in despair may not be taken at face value, but neither should they be taken lightly. The spiritual battle was here at its height for Elijah and it was not clear whether despair or courage would be triumph in Elijah’s life. The reassuring thing is that God did not leave him to his fate. He did not abandon him in his depression.
God may NOT treat his friends as they wish He would (as St Teresa remarked), but he does NOT abandon them either. God does not leave us alone.
From the man in the cave who has run away from Jezebel we now come in the NT to the man in the cave who longs to be delivered from his demons within. (He’s a different kind of ‘outsider’ from Elijah but equally cut off from others – abandoned to the local cemetery by his own community.) It’s ironic that the demons knew who Jesus truly was before even his own disciples and the Jewish authorities. Identity is important as TV programmes tracing people’s family members through DNA or ancestry searches show. And Jesus wanted to know the demoniacs’ identity. ‘What is your name?’ Jesus asked. Tragically, he gave the name ‘Legion’ revealing his identity as one possessed by many demons rather than his TRUE identity. However, this was the beginning of the man’s healing as the ‘legion’ of demons was sent packing.
This was ‘good news’ for the man who had been chained to grave stones, but NOT for the local Gerasenes who owned the pigs! The locals demanded Jesus leave them alone. As one commentator remarked, ‘more people hate Jesus because he disturbs them than for any other reason.’ We naturally crave ease, we like routine and we resist the disturber. E.G. the employer who is challenged for not being just towards his/her employees or the landlord who puts increased profit before the housing security needs of vulnerable tenants. The Gerasenes hated Jesus and wanted him gone because (unlike Jesus) they valued their pigs more than the needs of the demoniac.
Finally, our readings today remind us that in every generation, and at both the personal and community/society levels there is a spiritual battle to be fought. In these challenging times we can easily give in to despair (like Elijah) at the bad news we are confronted with. It’s not easy to be optimistic. So, we have to seize hold of the good things, the good experiences and the good people who come our way. E.G. Like the Jubilee a couple of weeks ago which gave us all a lift. And last weekend I was grateful to be invited to a wedding of a friend’s daughter whom I baptised 27 years ago! The hope and optimism the young can give us is amazing. So, don’t despair, have courage, keep the faith. God has you and the future in his hands.
Revd Terry Spencer