In January of 2014 I had the opportunity to study at St. George’s College in Jerusalem. For two weeks my classmates and I traveled throughout Israel and the West Bank to visit holy sites central to the life of Jesus. We spent the second half of our trip in Galilee, the region north of Jerusalem. One afternoon we visited a small hill on the far side of the sea, commemorated as the place where Jesus delivered the Gerasene Demoniac. Perhaps you know the story: In Mark’s gospel, Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee into the “land of the Gerasenes” where he encountered a possessed man living among the tombs. Jesus asked the demon for his name and the demon replied: “My name is Legion; for we are many.” Jesus then drove the demons out of the man and into a herd of swine. The herd rushed into the sea and drowned. The young man was suddenly clothed and in his right mind. When Jesus began to leave the young man begged to follow, but Jesus told him: “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you…”
As we stood on that windy hillside, looking out on the sea and imagining the scene for ourselves, an elderly priest in our group offered a reflection. He wondered about the connection between this story and the Parable of the Prodigal Son, found in this week’s gospel. In this parable a young man left home, wasted his fortune, and found himself living among pigs. Starving among the herd, he eventually came to his senses and traveled home. Instead of encountering an angry and disappointed parent, his father began running from a great distance, with arms wide open, ready to receive his son. The priest in our group said, “The reason Jesus told the Parable of the Prodigal Son was because he had met him. He knew his story. Perhaps the Prodigal Son and the Gerasene Demoniac are one in the same.”
Now, there is no evidence these two stories are connected. But Christians shouldn’t be too worried about reading between the lines of scripture. The Bible is a story of our encounter with God, a testament to God’s revelation to humankind. It is in these narratives that we see God’s love for us more clearly. Though biblical scholars would never link these two stories, both contain a powerful lesson for us in Lent. In both stories, the young men find themselves in dire straits. And, in both stories, the young men go home.
Lent is about going home. The season asks us to consider what is keeping us from God, what is keeping us from going home. Lenten disciplines are not exercises in groveling and guilt. Lent is calling us home, asking us to return to the one who greets us not with disappointment but with outstretched arms. May this be a season to run home, to fall into God’s loving arms, and tell our friends how much the Lord has done for us.
The Reverend Jacob E. Pierce, Priest-in-Charge