1 They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. 2 When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3 This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. 4 For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. 6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7 He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” 8 For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!” 9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. 11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12 The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13 He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. 14 Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15 When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. 17 Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.
–Mark 5.1-17 (NIV)
Bishop Tom Wright likes to ask the question, “What would it look like if God were running the world?” We catch a glimpse of it in today’s lesson. Jesus is confronted by a demoniac and we note his reaction to the man. Mark paints a desperate picture of this poor fellow. Half-crazed, feral, tortured, and living in isolation because people are afraid of him. We instinctively their reaction because if you have ever been in the presence of a truly psychotic person, it can make you afraid because all predictability of behavior vanishes. But Jesus isn’t afraid. Instead, Jesus heals him. Jesus shows us a consistent concern for those who are the most oppressed and it is especially poignant in this story because Mark tells us that the demons possessing the man were working very hard to eradicate God’s image in him completely, thus turning him into something less than human and quite devilish. If you care at all about humans, you cannot help but be both troubled and touched by this story.
But in the process of healing the demoniac, a herd of pigs is destroyed, likely a massive economic catastrophe for its owners, and we note carefully the reaction of those in the area when they learned that Jesus had healed this demoniac.
They are afraid and they ask Jesus to leave them.
We can’t really blame them because all they really saw was a herd of pigs destroyed and the resulting economic catastrophe that had come upon them. Notice that when they saw the healed man they didn’t say, “Wow, this is remarkable! You are healed and in your right mind. Thanks be to God! We don’t need to be afraid of you anymore. Good for you (and good for us)! Thanks be to God!”
No, all they saw was their own loss and how Jesus’ healing of the demoniac ostensibly affected them in a negative way. Apparently in this case when people saw what it looks like when God is running the show, they weren’t too impressed. They were only worried about its impact on them.
I suspect things haven’t changed too much between then and now. Sure, most of us like to say that we would be all for God coming down and running the show, but if the life of Jesus is a valid indicator–and surely it is since he was God become human–then the fact of the matter is we are likely to be lukewarm about God’s rule, depending on how it impacts us. Mark tells us that the healed demoniac wanted to follow Jesus but that Jesus would not allow him to do so. Clearly the demoniac was impressed when seeing the results of God’s rule. But he was in the distinct minority. The rest of his fellow citizens were less than impressed, partly because they couldn’t fully comprehend what had just happened and partly because of the economic loss they suffered.
And this is where the rubber hits the road for each of us. What do we value the most, the in-breaking of God’s kingdom or our own self interests (notice the interesting assumption behind the statement that the two can’t possibly be consistent)? When God finally puts to right all that is wrong with his fallen creation and creatures, we who are in Christ will get to enjoy God’s peace, freedom, and justice. Sounds good until we consider that we might be part of the current injustice that besets God’s creation and creatures, and consequently we might have to give up some of our share of the pie. Then we aren’t so interested any more in the coming of God’s kingdom.
So in this story we see all the messiness of life and some of the difficulty of trying to live faithfully to bring God’s love and kingdom to bear on others. It won’t always be so easy and we will not always be very popular when we are Kingdom workers. That is precisely when we will have to decide what constitutes “life” and what “real living” is all about. Is it about having a real relationship with the Source and Author of all life or is about amassing wealth, power, and prestige? To help you reflect on this, ask yourself what will be around in a million years. What will be around in a billion years? It likely won’t be the things that many value the most in life (money, sex, power, etc.). So which horse is really worth backing?
This, in part, is why it is a hard thing to follow Jesus. We have to lose so much of what we think is important–our power, wealth, pride, and self-reliance. We have to acknowledge that we really don’t have much control over much that goes on this life, despite our delusional thinking and frenetic efforts to the contrary. Only God is eternal and only God gives life and can raise us from the dead to live in his New Creation. The next time you see examples of what it looks like if God were running the world, how will you react? However you do will give you keen insight into the state of your relationship with God and how abundant your life really is.