Two Kinds of Sin
Text: Luke 8:26-39
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We humans always like to divide things up into categories. So we end up with sayings like “There are two kinds of people in the world: dog people and cat people,” or “There are three kinds of people in the world: people who can count and people who can’t.” At the risk of sounding like yet another trite simplification, I would venture that we could also say that there two kinds of sin; two kinds displayed in our Gospel reading for today. There is obvious sin and hidden sin; blatant, easily recognizable evil and evil that’s more difficult to identify.
These two kinds exist not because one is so much worse than the other. We know that sin is sin, great or small. We learn from Scripture that whoever is guilty of breaking one point of the Law is guilty of breaking all of it. So it’s not a matter of size or a degree of evilness that makes one sin obvious and another hidden. It’s that one kind stands out visibly and the other doesn’t.
Some sin is as plain as the nose on our faces. We have that evil flagrantly parading through our reading today with the demon-possessed man. For years he has worn no clothes. He didn’t live in a house, choosing to live in the tombs, a place of uncleanness. According to Leviticus, anyone who touched a dead body was considered unclean and unable to go into the temple or synagogue, unable to be in the places where God had promised to be in His Word and sacrifices. So this man, living among corpses, was perpetually unclean. Sometimes the Gerasenes, the people of the area, were able to subdue him, keep that rampant evil under control, when they would shackle him in chains. But the demon—or rather, the legion of demons—that possessed him would give him freakish strength to break the chains and run into the desert, the haunt of jackals and unclean spirits.
This man was clearly and obviously unclean. He was marked so deeply by evil, by the unthinkable things that the demons drove him to do, that it was written in his very flesh. There was no mistaking this man was in the grip of Legion. He’s what we might write off as being unredeemable, beyond help. People had tried, but he resisted. He refused to get with the program, to settle down, to be sensible. He was lost and it was obvious to anyone that he was hellbound.
But there’s another kind of sin our reading today too. It’s the hidden kind. And that is what we see in the good townspeople. These people lived in respectable homes on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. They had jobs. They even tried to help the poor demon-possessed man, until they gave up.
But they also raised herds of pigs. Now, this may not sound like sin to us, per se. But that’s because we live on this side of the resurrection, when Jesus’ death and resurrection has sanctified everything and brought us uncountable good gifts, including release from the dietary laws of Sinai. But the Gerasenes had not been released from that Law by then. They could look across the Sea of Galilee and see the city of Tiberias, the city where rabbis pondered all the laws God had given Moses, including what foods were clean or unclean. But that didn’t stop the Gerasenes. They raised herds of swine. The herds might have been food for the townspeople. Or they might have been for selling to local Gentiles. But either way, the presence and contact with these animals forbidden by the Law given on Mount Sinai made the townspeople unclean too. The only difference between their uncleanness and the demon-possessed man was that theirs was easier to turn a blind eye to because they all were doing it. It was less obvious that. Because they all agreed that it was OK, it was hidden in plain sight.
And this is where Jesus enters in and overturns it all. He casts the entire legion of demons out of the man. The demons beg Him not to banish them back to the infinite darkness of hell. And Jesus, being merciful, gives them permission to enter the herd of forbidden pigs there. Jesus removes the personal, obvious uncleanness from the man. But notice how Jesus gets a double play here. Not only does He take away this one man’s uncleanness, but the demons throw the pigs into such a frenzy that they stampede down the steep cliff-like banks there and drown in the Sea of Galilee. When this happens, the community’s hidden uncleanness is also removed. Jesus doesn’t care if it’s open or secret. He removes sin, He removes evil, either way.
But now look at the reactions of the people. The man whose sins were out in the open, the one whom everyone looked down on in disgust or fear or pity, he ends up sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, asking Jesus to let him tag along. And when Jesus tells him that it would better for the man to return home and declare how much God had done for him, the man goes throughout the whole city, telling how much Jesus had done for him. He identified Jesus as being God. He had faith.
And now look at those who were outwardly respectable, but had their hidden sins exposed and taken away from them. They ask Jesus to leave, to get out of town. They were seized with great fear of this man who could see what was hidden in their hearts, this Teacher who didn’t care if the whole town agreed it was OK if they broke this one commandment. They behaved like a child who has something poisonous taken away from them, complaining that they wanted to play with it a little while longer, angry at the one who took it from their hands.
This is an important lesson for us. Don’t assume that just because someone’s sin is obvious and easily identified, that they are beyond saving. Don’t think that big sins that shock and disgust and terrify you place someone beyond forgiveness and salvation. Don’t think that evil only exists in clear, easy to spot ways. When I teach college students and we get to the topic of evil, I’ll ask them to name someone evil. They only name the famous examples from history. But our lesson here is not to think that only that obvious examples are evil. And don’t think that just because your faults and sins can be hidden from others, that they can be hidden from God. Just because the outside is respectable doesn’t mean that the inside is pure. Don’t think that just because everyone, or a majority says that something is OK, that it is. God sees what is hidden and He does not turn a blind eye to it. He spoke through the prophet Isaiah, “I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices, who spend the night in secret places…who say, ‘Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.’” Our hidden sins, the one we think don’t count against us because outwardly we look holy, these still need to be removed from us, just as they needed to be removed from the townspeople. Jesus reinforces that lesson today.
So what are we to do? We learn from this, that if you have any uncleanness, public or private, obvious or hidden, admit it. Get it out in the open before God. Don’t go the route of the Gerasenes in our reading and ask Jesus to leave when your pet sin is shown to be uncleanness; when those things that the Lord says are not good are called OK by the community. Rather, get it out in the open and have Jesus remove it from you.
For He has taken on so much more than a herd of pigs or a legion of demons. He’s taken on the sins of the world—all of them. He’s taken on the sins of the greatest, most obvious sinners who we don’t hesitate to call evil. He’s taken on the million little sins and self-righteousness that we wear on ourselves daily. And all those sins were not transferred to yet another sacrificial animal, or a herd of animals rushing down a cliff; they were placed squarely on the Lamb of God, who died for all—no exceptions. This Lamb of God was not driven to drown against His will, but He willingly went up a mountain, offering Himself on the cross. That has purchased forgiveness and purity for all, you included.
Be cleansed. Be forgiven. You’ve confessed your sins at the beginning of the service. Those sins were taken away from you, drowned in your Baptism, washed away in the absolution spoken by Jesus through your pastor’s vocal cords. Your Lord’s words put you in your right mind. Come now and kneel at Jesus’ feet, clothed in His purity, restored and healed in His Supper. Do not ask Him to leave because of some darkness in you. Ask Him to save you, to cleanse you, to make you whole again. Then return to your home and declare how much God has done for you, how much Jesus has done for you. In the name of Jesus, our Savior. Amen.