Proper 7 • Luke 8:26–39 • June 19, 2016
By Jeff Kloha
“Why Do You Not Leave Me Alone?”
This pericope falls within a series of four of Jesus’s miracles (8:22–56): calming a storm, casting out demons, healing a woman, and raising a girl from the dead. These together show Jesus’s power and reign over every sphere of danger and calamity: nature, spiritual powers, disease, and death. Sadly, the series C lectionary focuses on pericopes unique (or uniquely told) in Luke; but the adventurous preacher might take an opportunity for a short four-week series on the “Power of Jesus,” focusing on these four episodes, culminating in a girl being raised from the dead and ending with the hope of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
Two features of this text stand out in Luke’s Gospel. First, the event occurs in Gentile territory, thereby demonstrating that all peoples participate in Jesus’s reign. Second, this is the only event in Luke with a mission focus (“describe what God did”). Note that Jesus instructed the man to do this within his household (οἶκός), but he ends up “announcing through the whole territory what Jesus did for him.” Preachers may wish to focus on this theme; this study suggests instead a theme connected to the power of Jesus.
Some exegetical issues require resolution. First, in 8:28, τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί may be rendered, woodenly, as “what to me is also to you?” But that is not very clear English, and perhaps, as Arndt and others suggest, “Why do you not leave me alone?” is more accurate (cf. ESV: “What have you to do with me”). A second issue with this phrase is who the speaker is at this point: Is the man speaking, or the demon?
The ambiguity of the speaker may serve as a homiletic device: The question, “Why do you not leave me alone?” if voiced by the demon, is answered by Jesus as Lord who has conquered Satan by his death and resurrection. He does not leave the demon alone because he has come to destroy evil in all its forms and drive it from the face of the earth. In the midst of terrorism and war, bloodshed and shootings, the need for a Savior is all the more pressing and obvious.
But, “Why do you not leave me alone?” is also the question of the man, who has been possessed and beset by evil. From him (and from us) it is a plaintive cry. God has every right, in his justice, to leave us alone and abandon us. It is a question, ultimately, of faith. Even in the midst of bombings and shootings, of disease and death, God could easily abandon us to the sin, pride, and arrogance of our society and of each one of us. But he does not leave us alone. He breaks in to our world to be with us, to become one with us, to deal with sin decisively in his body. He does not leave us alone.
There is an interesting “blank” in the episode, while the herdsmen run into the town and get the townspeople Jesus and the man are left behind, absent from the description. When they return, Jesus is sitting with the man, peacefully, who is now clothed and of sound mind. How did that happen? How did he get the clothes? What were he and Jesus doing and discussing while everyone else was away? And notice that it is not Jesus, nor the healed man, who relates the story of what had happened, but the herdsmen. Jesus and the man are detached from all the chaos and anxiety and fear that is surrounding them. They are remarkably calm and, well, normal, even as everyone else is in an uproar. Such is the power of Jesus.
Finally—not an exegetical issue but a cultural challenge—in our day, our hearers may respond to the biblical account with incredulity. Skeptics will doubt the authenticity of any miracles, and the seeming over-the-top description of the swine and the cliff only gives ammunition to those who doubt the gospel accounts. But a sermon is not necessarily the best place for apologetics (and certainly Luke feels no need to defend the historicity of the event, he simply tells it). The preacher will best serve his people by himself being convinced of the power of Jesus, and allowing the power of that Word to prevail mightily through him.
As you develop the sermon in a way that connects to your congregation, the text urges certain themes. Here Jesus demonstrates, again, his all-encompassing power to us. In this text we are driven to confidence. Even in the midst of crushing and overwhelming forces which we cannot comprehend or battle, the power of Jesus is undiminished. That power does not ratchet up the volume, responding to power with even more overwhelming power, but with a word, with peace, with calm, with, dare we say, a normal, everyday life. “What do you have to do with me?” can be the yell of the enemy, the unbeliever, opposed to God and his power. But it can also be a cry of faith, a cry of wondrous confidence in the God who always responds to save his people. The psalmist praises, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! (Ps 139). “What a God,” we say, “who has to do even with me!” daily, and finally on the last day, through the cross and the empty tomb to the right hand of the Father, from which place he reigns still today, this day.