“Freedom, Cut Me Loose!” or the Gerasene Demoniac and the Gospel According to Beyoncé

Luke 8:26-39

If there is one thing that I love obsessing over as much as church, it’s popular culture. Especially music. And I love to interweave them. So here you go.

This year, recording artist Beyoncé released her visual album, Lemonade, addressing issues of racism, sexism (the struggles of Black women specifically), infidelity, and a myriad of other issues in a stunning display of artistic, musical, and visual creativity. As I read this week’s Gospel text, I read about how this man possessed by demons in the country of the Gerasenes would break his own chains and run into the wilds. I read about he lived in the tombs in Gentile country, “opposite Galilee,” Luke tells us. This man was pushed to the margins not just by his demon possession, but by his race — he was a Gentile, non-Jewish, on the fringes of society, “opposite Galilee” both literally and figuratively. Jesus had no specific reason to go to him to heal him — he wasn’t Jewish, after all — and yet, he gets into a boat and he finds him.

And of course this made me think of Beyoncé lyrics.

In her track “Freedom,” she sings at the top of her lungs what could very well be the Gerasene demoniac’s anthem, as I can hear him saying her words:

“Freedom, freedom, I can’t move

Freedom, cut me loose

Freedom, freedom, where are you?

‘Cause I need freedom too

I break chains all by myself, won’t let my freedom rot in hell…” [1]

The man in our story today is pushed just about as far outside of the community as he possibly could be. He finds himself unable to control his own body, running around naked, possessed by demons, often shackled by others in an attempt to keep him under control.

I’ve often assumed that the demoniac breaking his own chains was just part of the demon possession, but I now believe that Luke mentions it for a reason. Beyoncé has me wondering if this wasn’t the man inside grasping against those demons for freedom however he can get it. 

“Freedom, freedom, I can’t move,

Freedom, cut me loose…”

Jesus meets the man after the man has broken his chains yet again. Had he not broken his own chains, he would never have made it to Jesus. But he does, and the demons cry out to Jesus, knowing exactly who Jesus is. “What have you to do with me, Son of the most High God?” In other words, “What are you doing in Gentile country?! Leave us alone!”

Jesus commands the demon to come out of the man, and instead the demon begs Jesus not to torment him. Leave me alone, the demon cries. Go back to the Jews!

Jesus answers, significantly: “What is your name?”

“Legion,” Jesus is told, “for we are many.”

How many demons infect our world today? Legion. For they are many.

They are hatred, they are racism, they are sexism, they are terrorism, violence, sexual assault, homophobia.

Their name is Legion, for they are many.

We saw the result of them last Sunday morning, when fifty people lost their lives in a vicious attack on a gay bar in Orlando. We blame the 29-year-old young man who committed the violence, which is the obvious answer, but we all know it runs deeper than him. We’ve scrambled as a country to come up with answers, placing the blame on terror, guns, homophobia, twisted religion, hatred. And indeed, our problems run deep. As a nation, our demons have come to the surface, even as we scramble for answers.

And their name is Legion, for they are many.

And sometimes they fully infect the heart of a person who then does horrible things.

Meanwhile, the Latinx community and LGBTQ+ communities have come out to tell the nation about how violence and the threat of violence have always been a constant for them. The demons have been after them — after us — for awhile. It’s only now that they’ve made the news.

“Freedom, freedom, I can’t move,

Freedom, cut me loose, hey, hey

Freedom, freedom, where are you?

‘Cause I need freedom too!…”

Finally, in the Gospel text, Freedom shows up on the shores of the country of the Gerasenes, and even the demons know his name: Jesus, the son of the most high God.

He drives the demons into the pigs, and word begins to spread of what had happened. Now, let’s remember that this didn’t happen in 2016, when everyone had a smart phone. People did not see “Gerasene Demoniac Freed!” in a Washington Post article on their Facebook feed. News took time to spread. But by the time word spreads and the community comes out to see him, Jesus is still there with him, possibly days later, presumably with the other disciples too. And they find the man sitting at Jesus’ feet, fully himself, no longer tormented by the demons. Jesus didn’t just heal and dash. He stays with the man, eventually sending him to be the first missionary to the Gentiles: “Go and tell everyone what God has done for you.”

And the community’s response to all this, I think it’s important to note, is not gratitude for saving a member of their community or for saving the community from the man’s madness. Their response is to tell Jesus to leave. They are afraid of him.

Of this, my friend Joseph, an Episcopal priest in San Francisco, writes:

“Longing for freedom, being scared when it is offered, and doubting or fearing those who have experienced it are not limited to Jesus’ casting demons from a man across from Galilee. It’s discussed and experienced when talking about crab mentality [when crabs in an open bucket will claw to keep one another from climbing out]. Contemporary lyricist Greg Kotis notes it in the song ‘Run, Freedom Run’ from the musical Urinetown. Unlike crabs in a bucket… characters in Urinetown name their fear. Their revolutionary leader says, “[You are afraid], as well you should be. Freedom is scary. It’s a blast of cool wind that burns your face to wake you up.’” [2]

It’s amazing how we get used to living with demons so much that we are afraid when they are cast out of our community. How we challenge those who might name our demons of prejudice or hatred. How we react in fear when others get freedom.

When the Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage last year, one of my friends, a gay man, remarked that he was now even more scared of hate crimes. “Things have gotten better,” he said, “and now I worry that people will be so full of fear that they will act their fear out on us in hatred. I worry that now that things have gotten better, things might get worse.”

“Freedom, freedom, I can’t move,

Freedom, cut me loose!

Freedom, freedom, where are you?

‘Cause I need freedom too!”

Ultimately, we are all tormented by demons that we cannot free ourselves from. Whether they torment us from outside or from within or, as in most cases, both, we are all the Gerasene demoniac. We are all tormented by things that will not cut us loose. We can work, yes. We can work so that all Americans, and people around the world, might live without fear. We can work to break chains so that people might live freely as who they are, work so that all might be gifted with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That all may have clean water and bread. We may even occasionally break our own chains, but ultimately, like the Gerasene man tormented by demons, we cannot free ourselves. The demons always seem to find us again.

But Paul tells us that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

May Freedom show up on the shores of all who are oppressed.

May the Spirit blow through like a cold wind that snaps us awake and burns our faces. May it wake us up, even if waking up is uncomfortable, to realize that everyone, whether they are in our community or outside, whether they are “one of us” or “opposite Galilee,” is deserving of respect and love.

At the end of Beyoncé’s song “Freedom,” black recording artist Kendrick Lamar raps these words that are as relevant today as they were when he wrote them:

“Ten Hail Marys, I meditate for practice

Channel 9 news tell me I’m movin’ backwards

Eight blocks left, death is around the corner

Seven misleadin’ statements ’bout my persona

Six headlights wavin’ in my direction

Five-O askin’ me what’s in my possession

Yeah I keep runnin’, jump in the aqueducts

Fire hydrants and hazardous

Smoke alarms on the back of us

But mama don’t cry for me, ride for me

Try for me, live for me

Breathe for me, sing for me

Honestly guidin’ me

I could be more than I gotta be…

And when they carve my name inside the concrete

I pray it forever reads

FREEDOM, freedom, I can’t move

Freedom, cut me loose!…” [3]

Forty-nine souls are free, truly free, today, having joined the company of the saints in glory while we continue to wrestle with the demons here on earth.

But where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Freedom is here and freedom is coming for all of us. Christ has set us free and Christ is setting us free. May we have the courage to recognize freedom and fight for it, realizing, ultimately, that all are made in the image of the living God.

And may God come soon to cast out the demons forever.

‘Cause we all need freedom too. Amen.

Screen Shot 2016-06-19 at 12.19.42 PM
[1] Beyoncé Knowles, “Freedom,” Lemonade, Parkwood Entertainment, Columbia Records, 2016.
[2] The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews, Proper 7C: “Freedom is Scary,” Modern Metanoia blog post, June 6, 2016, https://modernmetanoia.org/2016/06/06/proper-7c-freedom-is-scary/
[3] Kendrick Lamar, feat. on “Freedom,” Beyoncé Knowles, Lemonade.

 

One thought on ““Freedom, Cut Me Loose!” or the Gerasene Demoniac and the Gospel According to Beyoncé

  1. Such a heartfelt response to the Orlando Massacre. You have taken a stand for those who will hear it and given homage to the patrons of that club and the gay community in general.

    Like

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