Lessons from a Lobster Roll
We are recently back from a family vacation in Portland, Maine. It was practically perfect, complete with lighthouses and sunny skies with cool ocean breezes. We could not have asked for better weather or a more charming destination. We drove there, so that we could see Niagara Falls on the way. That was worth it for sure, but I would be lying if I said we didn’t have any challenging moments with all that togetherness in the car for three days. But that was worth it, too. I tend to think that a destination is sweeter when it takes longer to get there. So we had several days on the road to anticipate what our time in Maine would be like. The kids looked forward to eating Ben and Jerry’s ice cream in Freeport. Jason was looking forward to outdoorsy gear shops, and we were all excited about time with extended family and new adventures. I was also pretty excited about lobster rolls.
With all that wonderful anticipation, once we got there we were ready to enjoy a perfect evening in Maine. We found a popular local brew pub overlooking the water. After climbing on some rocks at the beach in the afternoon, appetites were strong. The kids ordered their standard fare - Mac and cheese, chicken tenders, and French fries. I enthusiastically ordered the lobster roll. When it came to the table, it was a wonder to behold. A freshly baked roll, crisp lettuce, and perfectly cooked lobster in a light, unassuming sauce. Perfection. Since travel is about having new experiences, I offered a piece of lobster to my oldest, who had never tried it before. Obviously this was a generous sacrifice on my part. I wanted him to have a true taste of the north east. I wanted his first bite of lobster to be a revelation, a kind of Oprah moment about living his best life and savoring the good stuff. He agreed to try it. I swear that the piece of lobster had only been in contact with his mouth for a fraction of a nanosecond before he grimaced, spit it out, and declared it, “too squishy.”
Perhaps you sympathize with his reaction, depending on your own opinion of eating crustaceans. But I don’t think he even tasted it. I bet he had already assumed that it would be gross. For one thing, it was not a member of those primary kid food groups, and it comes from something that looks like a giant bug crawling on the bottom of the ocean. His mind was closed to a new thing, a new idea, and so he missed the revelation that was offered to him. That was disappointing, but at least I didn’t have to share any more of the lobster.
In the scheme of things, this was a very minor incident on a family trip. But it points to a problem we all have, a problem that scales up pretty quickly. We tend to get accustomed to what we think is true and good, so much so that we have a hard time taking in new information that challenges those opinions. We get used to our usual food groups, to our sources of information, and to our customary interpretations of the world. We also get caught up in systems that are bigger than ourselves, from families to politics and economics, and these influence how we understand reality. The problem is that we always have only a partial view. Sometimes the systems we are in offer a distorted version of what’s true and good. And we have a hard time imagining that things could be any different than they are now, whether we’re talking about our personal lives or the society we live in. Jesus was on a mission to point this out. Time and again, he tried to shake people loose from their blinders, to get them to see a different way. No easy task, even for the Son of God. And in today’s gospel, we have a front row seat to a giant failed attempt.
That might seem like a strange way into discussing a wildly successful healing story. The Gerasene demoniac, as the poor man living among the tombs has come to be known, encounters Jesus one day. His healing is swift, thorough, and utterly miraculous. We find him in his right mind, clothed, and sitting at Jesus’ feet in the posture of a disciple.
If that were the whole story, it would certainly be sufficient as good news for us and for the healing we seek for ourselves. But if we look a little more deeply, there is so much more to the story to understand. A key detail is in the moment Jesus asks the man possessed by demons his name, and he responds “Legion.” That would have had an instant association in the ancient world - that of a Roman army of about 6,000 soldiers. And when the man confronts Jesus, the Greek verb is one for armies meeting in battle. Also, the word for the man’s shackles is the same one as in Acts when the disciples are imprisoned. In other words, the language of the whole episode evokes the experience of living under a brutal occupying power. And what’s more, the region of Gerasene is the setting for a terrible historical event. According to Josephus, a Roman general sent soldiers to retake the area. They killed a thousand young men, imprisoned their families, and burned the city. Many of those buried in the Gerasene tombs had been killed by Roman legions (Judith Jones). This scene is not just about Jesus facing one man among the tombs. It’s a clash between two opposing systems, one Roman and one of God.
To me, the most fascinating part of the story is the reaction of the crowd. When they learn of the man’s healing, instead of rejoicing in amazement, they are terrified. They want Jesus gone. It seems to me that they have a hard time imagining a different reality than the one they know. They are so caught up in the Roman system that they are terrified to see beyond it. Maybe the devil you know is always preferable to the one you don’t. They miss something that the man sitting at Jesus’ feet knows - that he is finally free. Legion no longer dictates his reality. He has found a truer reality in Jesus.
We, too, are invited to see that truer reality. Like the Gerasenes, we get caught up in systems that shape our world more than we even realize. We consider ourselves free, yet we are still subject to earthly lords and appetites. But there is a deeper freedom offered by Jesus. His freedom is not bound by partial ideas of good and true. His is complete, grounded in his own inexhaustible, sacrificial love. Following Jesus allows us to shake off shackles of our own, to be free from our demons and certainly our blinders.
Martin Luther once wrote about this freedom. He said that, in Christ, we are perfectly free, or in his words, “lord of all, subject to none.” But Christian freedom is not the usual kind of freedom we think we know. Luther also said that freedom in Christ is freedom for service. It is the freedom to follow Jesus in his sacrificial way of love. It’s a spiritual irony, captured in the image of the healed man sitting at Jesus’ feet. Being saved, being bound by Jesus’ own hallmarks of mercy, forgiveness, and grace makes us freer than we ever thought possible.
This freedom is within reach, my friends. We may not always be aware of the imperfect systems we are in and how they limit our view. Like when a kid pre-determines that lobster will most certainly be too squishy and rejects the possibility of something new and wonderful. Sometimes we just can’t imagine things other than the way they are now. But in each moment of our lives, Christ comes to us to show us the bigger picture. And just like that man in the Gerasene tombs, he asks us our names. To whom do we belong? Of course, the devils we know will keep vying for our identity and our allegiance, telling us that they have the truth. But they are no match for the perfect freedom Jesus offers. Even when they are legion.