Sunday, 15 January 2017

Evangelizing in the mud

Today's Gospel reading is Mark 5:1-20. It is the story of Jesus arriving in Gerasene to discover a man who was possessed by many (2000!) demons. He terrorized the populace who had tried chaining and restraining him to no avail; he lived among the tombs and mountains, howling and injuring himself with rocks.  Jesus commanded the demons to come out of him and drove them into a herd of swine which subsequently ran off a cliff and drowned in the sea.  The swineherd ran all over the surrounding area to tell others what had happened and the story concludes thus:

"They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion, and they were afraid.  Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it.  Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighbourhood.  As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. But Jesus refused, and said to him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown to you."  And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.

I've not got much time to write but I wanted to offer a few comments.

As a person who experienced a profound conversion several years into marriage and motherhood, I look back at my waywardness and cringe.  I can see myself in the place of the newly healed "demoniac" and I feel I know what he is thinking. He is so overwhelmed with gratitude to Jesus for rescuing him and wants to give his life to Him, which is one reason he begs to come along with Him in the boat. But, he is also trying to flee.  He recognizes the damage he has done, the scandal his former life has created, the reputation he has earned.  Although everyone can see he has changed, he knows his past too well, and he does not want to remember it. He wants a clean break, a fresh start. He doesn't want to agonize over every encounter "what do they really think of me? Do they see the new me or the demon-infested man? Every time I have a bad day are they all going to jump to conclusions that I've not really changed.  What if the demons do come back?" He doesn't want to be remembered for his brokenness. 

But Jesus, in His compassionate wisdom, says "no" to the man's plaintive cry.  Instead of rescuing him from his memories, He commissions him to be an evangelist! In contrast to several other recorded healings in which Jesus expressly commands the healed to tell no one what has happened, here Jesus does the exact opposite.  And so the man does not go back to his home a shrinking violet, keeping to himself and trying to go unnoticed, but he goes courageously back to the ones who (the man probably thought) would likely view him as a curiosity at best and a dangerous freak at worst. He goes back and he tells them exactly what the Lord has done for him, and of the mercy that he has been shown. He offered up his painful testimony and the story of his incredible exorcism and so proclaims the Good News of Jesus.  His redemption is not separate from his past but drawn from it. 

As I've often written before I have struggled with trying to bury my past and trying to rebuild relationships with people who knew me at my worst.  I know that this fearfulness and retreat is not what God wants for me, but that if He has chosen me to be His own it is so that He could love those nearest to me through me and draw them to Him.  So, I found this passage and Jesus' response to the man's begging to be extremely consoling and it encourages me to likewise bravely "go home to [my] friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for [me] and what mercy he has shown [me]." 



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