The book of Luke was likely written by Luke himself. He was probably not Jewish and never actually saw any of the incidents he describes but he became a Christian and probably knew the Apostle Paul. He was well educated – most likely a doctor. He also wrote the book of Acts.
He wrote toward the end of the first Century when Christians were getting a bad rap from the Jews and the Romans. It was Luke’s hope to set the record straight, defend the message of Jesus, and help others see him as a healer and one whose purpose was to “Save” people. He was particularly interested in directing his account to his own Gentile people. “This teacher is no threat!”
Because his purpose is different from other gospel writers, it is no surprise that Luke, like any good writer, would present his material in a unique way to appeal to his audience.
He starts by telling the story of Jesus in the synagogue as a way of helping us all to know what Jesus is all about! You remember it from last Sunday? He picks up scripture to read and it is a passage from Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And immediately Jesus claims that text as his own: “That’s me! That’s what I’m all about! That’s what I intend to do.”
And then, you have to picture Luke sitting at his desk with little cubicles filled with bottles of medicines and healing herbs and the desktop cluttered with notes, correspondence, and papers filled with stories about the life and teaching of Jesus. “What shall I tell first? “
His choice? A demon possessed man in the synagogue! Now I’m not going to spend much time over this matter of demon possession. Just know that any disease of the mind or body that couldn’t be explained in any other way by 1st Century people (who were not people of science) got blamed on demons.
Sufficient to say, labeling a man as “demon possessed,” was not only a way to create a category for someone they didn’t understand, but was a way to dismiss them! “Never mind him, he’s not worth your time,” or “he’s unimportant,” or “he’s not human,” or “he’s one of ‘them.’” He’s DEMON POSSESSED. It is how we get the phrase to DEMONIZE someone.
There is probably no way that we in the 21st Century will ever solve the question of the correct diagnosis for that poor man. It’s a good thing, because replacing his label for one of ours doesn’t solve the problem Jesus came to address.
Jesus said: It is just those sorts of people I’ve come to set free from the shackles the rest of the world seems determined to place on them.
There are lots of blatant ways that we label people setting them up to feel unworthy, less-than, dirty, or bad. You know how we’ve done it to people of color, people of specific nationalities, women, LGBT, political affiliation.
But there are so many more subtle ways that we do it. Labeling, for example, is not in itself a bad thing! Scientists make a living labeling things. Sociologists, anthropologists, educators, people who study diseases like viruses, and researchers of all sorts! We put things and people into groups and we even classify them as more or less dangerous!
We teach our children to label things – as red, green, blue, as dangerous or safe, as healthy and unhealthy.
We are less careful about how we teach our children about the dangers of misusing an important tool! It is critical that our children grow up understanding how and when to place a value on things and people we have labeled.
Labels sometimes start out to be innocent ways of identifying others and end up being slurs or insults. And then, our speech can become a way of putting others into boxes that maybe were not hurtful 100 years ago, but are now.
When we begin to realize that we are a party to enclosing some of God’s children into boxes that wound and inhibit them, we need to watch Jesus who went INTO THE SYNAGOGUE and saw someone incarcerated by being labeled as demon possessed and spoke up saying: “Be quiet! Come out of the man!”
I don’t say these things because I have observed you all wounding people in these ways, but I say these things because I know that WE ALL as Jesus people, need to follow his example, watching for those who are the prisoners and the oppressed and doing our part to set them free!
The good news is that we serve a Jesus who is always on the lookout for those who need to be set free. We must stand on the side of setting people free! We were not created to either diminish someone else – nor have we been created to be diminished by someone else. JESUS CAME TO FREE US – To say the word that liberates us from bondage – and from behaviors that diminish and demean another.