There is a lot of fear in the story in Luke 8:26-39 of Jesus’ encounter with

a man of the city who had demons.

Fear is explicitly named twice in the passage.

When the people “in the city and in the country” heard the report from the swineherds of the destruction of their livestock,

they were afraid. (Luke 8:35)

Then again, when the swineherds recounted the story to  “all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes,” Luke says

they were seized with great fear. (Luke 8:37)

But there is also fear that is not overtly named.

The man “who had demons” is afraid when he first encounters Jesus. The people of the city are afraid of the “man who had demons” causing them to try to control him by keeping him

under guard and bound with chains and shackles. (Luke 8:29)

At the root of all this fear, is the fear of the demons who fear that Jesus will

order them to go back into the abyss. (Luke 8:31)

This is the one great fear. Behind all the smaller fears, lurks the fear of “the abyss”.

Realistically, I have nothing much to fear in life. I am healthy. The people I love are healthy, well adjusted and reasonably happy. I am well-provided for and have little need to worry about whether I will be able to make adequate provision for the physical necessities of my life.

But, in spite of the relative security of my life, I fear the “abyss”. I fear the possibility of annihilation. I fear that something may be taken from I cannot afford to let go. I fear the loss of my identity, the destruction of my sense of self. I worry that some dark force may overwhelm me and I will be reduced to nothing. I perch on the edge of this “abyss”, peering over into the threatening emptiness, working endlessly to pull myself back from the edge of the darkness that threatens at times to overwhelm me.

But there is one person in this story who does not appear to have been afraid. Jesus stands his ground serene in the face of the threatening force of the “Legion” of demons that seemed such a threat to the people of the Gerasenes (cf. Luke 8:22,23). Even in the face of death, Jesus was able to say,

Do not fear. (Luke 8:50)

Why was Jesus able to avoid fear when those around him trembled?

Jesus was saved from fear by the voice of truth that spoke from eternity saying,

‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ (Luke 9:35)

Jesus knew who he was. He knew where he belonged. His identity was not in doubt. He was not threatened by the “abyss.” Jesus had nothing to protect, nothing to preserve, nothing to prove.

How did Jesus get to this steady strong place of inner security? He pointed the way when he told his disciples,

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13)

I find freedom from fear, when I lay down my determination to serve my own sense of what I need and want and desire and embrace with love the others God places in my life.

The great twentieth century Trappist monk, Thomas Merton had made this journey and gave voice to the path in a poem he wrote in 1957, eleven years before his tragic death in 1968:

When in the soul of the serene disciple
With no more Fathers to imitate
Poverty is a success,
It is a small thing to say the roof is gone:
He has not even a house.

Stars, as well as friends,
Are angry with the noble ruin.
Saints depart in several directions.

Be still:
There is no longer any need of comment.
It was a lucky wind
That blew away his halo with his cares,
A lucky sea that drowned his reputation.

Here you will find
Neither a proverb nor a memorandum.
There are no ways,
No methods to admire
Where poverty is no achievement.
His God lives in his emptiness like an affliction. *

What choice remains?
Well, to be ordinary is not a choice:
It is the usual freedom
Of men without visions.

*nb: ‘afflction’ in the 11c. Old French root to the word which means an “act of humility, humiliation, mortification.” So, this line is saying that God lives in our emptiness as a source of humility,