What are you wearing? (Pride Sunday) Gal 3:23-29 & Lk 8: 26-39
At red carpet events like the Oscar or Tony awards, breathless members of the press often greet dazzlingly-dressed celebrities with the question, “Who are you wearing?” The answers are often along the lines of “My gown is from Prada and my jewels are from Tiffany’s” (or similarly famous names), and are intended to elevate the status of both the designers and those wearing their clothes. That’s what came to mind when I read this line in today’s excerpt from the letter to the church in Galatia: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ.” Symbolizing the concept of being clothed with Christ, many churches put robes or prayer shawls on newly baptized Christians. The idea of being clothed with Christ is also why a pall—a large fabric cloth—is sometimes placed over a casket at a funeral. These are visual reminders that, from beginning to end, we are clothed with Christ.
This metaphor has long been a favorite of mine because of my lifelong obsession with fashion as a form of self-expression. It probably comes as no surprise that one of my favorite activities as a child was playing dress up with my siblings and friends (yes, that’s me and my little brother Steve on the cover of your bulletin). As I mentioned last week, children learn a lot when they play. I am convinced that putting on a variety of costumes and playing different roles helps people gain empathy and understanding for a wide variety of other people. Since how we express ourselves on the outside often reflects our inner life, actors often say they figure out who their characters are only once they are in costume. After all, wearing a corset, bustle, and high heels makes you walk and sit differently than wearing a flannel nightshirt and fuzzy slippers.
So what does it look like, in practical ways, that we have “put on Christ”? Maybe today’s Gospel lesson can offer an illustration. Luke’s story begins—appropriately for our purposes—with a naked man. What he is wearing are chains and shackles, though even those provisions don’t restrain his violent tendencies or keep him from being a threat to his community. He is isolated, homeless, abandoned to wander among the tombs. When Jesus asks his name, the response is “Legion, for we are many.”
For Luke’s audience, “Legion” had only one meaning: it was literally a unit of six thousand Roman soldiers. Suddenly this story is about more than another healing or exorcism; it is political and social commentary. It’s probably not accidental that the verb Luke uses when speaking of the demons “seizing” this man is the same verb that Luke uses elsewhere to describe Christians being arrested and brought to trial. Along the same lines, the words for “binding” and “guarding” and for the man’s hand and foot chains are the same ones Luke uses when describing the disciples in prison in the book of Acts. This man may not be wearing any clothes, but he is covered in layers of hardship that come from living under a brutal occupying power.
Luke introduces this story by telling us that Jesus deliberately sets out from his home turf to cross to “the other side,” to Gentile territory in the region of Gerasene. According to the ancient Roman historian Josephus, this is where the Roman general Vespasian killed a thousand young men, imprisoned their families, burned the city, and then attacked villages throughout the region. Placing a distraught man wandering among the tombs of this place is a reminder of all those slaughtered by Roman legions. It makes me wonder if something we now call PTSD is among the demons that make up the Legion this man feels he harbors.
Perhaps you know some of this man’s desperation. Maybe you, too, have felt alone, as if forsaken in a place of death. Maybe you, too, have seen the damage done by the occupying forces of addiction or mental illness. Perhaps you know the horror of abusive relationships and domestic violence. And certainly all who come near this building bear witness the tragedy of homelessness and exclusion.
It isn’t clear why Jesus one day just decided to leave Galilee and go into Gentile territory, but my guess is it isn’t an accident. Maybe he deliberately came to seek out this particular tormented person. After all, it is just like Jesus to take extravagant measures to seek out the marginalized and forsaken, to leave behind the 99 and go looking for that one lost sheep. It is just like Jesus to bring hope to the hopeless, health to the ill, to set free the captives from all that holds them bound. We could even say he came to cover one man’s nakedness with the garments of belonging and healing.
The demons seem to recognize that the presence of Jesus brings about such changes, because they shout out to Jesus not to send them into the abyss (who knows what they meant by that). Jesus honors Legion’s request to be sent into a herd of pigs instead. Of course, Jews regarded pigs as unclean animals, so this detail is a reminder that Jesus is in Gentile territory. There’s also another political note to observe: Legio 10th Fretensis—a Roman legion that took the lead in the siege and destruction of Jerusalem—used a pig as one of its emblems on banners as well as everyday objects like coins and bricks. Jewish audiences probably appreciated the fact that Legion, thinking that it has avoided the abyss, promptly charges into the water and drowns.
The pigkeepers, who witness the whole event, run to spread the news and protect their own reputations. When they return with curious people from both the city and the countryside, the liberated man is sitting calmly at Jesus’ feet. Luke notes that he is “clothed and in his right mind.”
No wonder the town is disturbed. Jesus has upended their reality. Now they will have to navigate real relationships with this former outsider, who they’d been able to ignore in the past. Now that they have no scapegoat on whom to blame their problems, they’ll have to address issues with one another. Likewise, it’s no wonder the healed man wants to go with Jesus, for he’s found what it’s like to feel like he matters and he wants to hang onto that.
Jesus has other ideas. He invites everyone to learn from the roles they used to play. He instructs the man who was healed to teach the townspeople what he learned about God’s grace from his experiences, and commits him to his neighbor’s care. It’s not unlike the commission Jesus gives to his disciples at the end of Luke’s Gospel: “Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in Jesus’ name to all nations…You are witnesses of these things.”
Now, of course, the connection between Luke’s story and the description from Galatians of all the baptized being clothed with Christ isn’t a perfect parallel. As far as we know, the Gerasene man never gets baptized, and obviously Luke wants to make some religious, social, and political points beyond indicating that Jesus clothes the naked, literally or metaphorically. But I’m convinced there is some overlap—and they serve as invitation and challenge for all of us.
This is the Good News: Jesus has never stopped crossing boundaries, never stopped seeking out those who are haunted by a traumatic past and tortured by memories. Even now, Jesus never stops pursuing those who feel abandoned and unworthy, ashamed or alone. Jesus calls to people who have comfortably ignored others still wandering the midst of tombs, insisting they all try on robes of healing and restoration. We are witnesses to these things.
So, who in our context lacks adequate clothing and shelter? Who is imprisoned, regarded as sub-human, excluded from society? Who is so enslaved by addictions that they no longer know where the addiction ends and their own selves begin? Where do occupying armies still brutalize communities, separate families, and hold people captive to fear? It is in these places where we will find Jesus and where Jesus finds us.
Jesus comes to cast out whatever prevents us from living fully and freely as humans created in God’s own image. Jesus comes to clothe us in liberating love, head to toe. Enfolded in the fabric of belonging, we are able to extend that same love and acceptance to anyone still wandering alone among the tombs. And if, on our journeys, someone chances to ask, “Who are you wearing?” we can answer—even in our thrift shops suits—with joy and assurance, “I am clothed with Christ.”
Thanks be to God! Amen.
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