Grace and Peace from the Mystery in whom we live and move and have our being. Tell people what God has done for you.
The man from whom the demons had gone out begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away.”Luke 8:26-39
The Bible passage for today is such a study in contrasts and reversals. Everything at the end is the opposite of the beginning. I guess that’s what happens when Jesus enters your world, your community, your life.
At the beginning of the story:
- The demoniac is living outside the town in a cemetery. The townsfolk are inside the city.
- The man is in fear of Jesus. The townspeople are happy.
- The man wants nothing to do with Jesus. The people have no problem with him being there.
At the end of the story:
- The man is living happily inside the town. The townsfolk are outside the town, entombed in their fear.
- The man wants to be with Jesus. The people want Jesus as far away from them as possible.
A study in contrasts
But before we can even begin to look at this, we have to take a look at the situation. Jesus meets a Gentile man in a Gentile town, possessed by demons, whose name is Legion (the same name as a group of Roman soldiers), living amongst tombs, surrounded by pigs.
You don’t get much more foreign, filthy, disgusting or dirty than that – from a Jewish perspective.
So much for getting your act together before your ‘come to Jesus’ moment. In fact, you don’t even ‘come to Jesus,’ he comes to you. In all your brokenness, and no matter how the world has defined you.
JESUS COMES TO YOU!!!
And in fact, what often happens is those who you most think would reject him, end up transformed by him… and the respectable people end up finding him an anathema to their quiet and peaceful lives.
Of course, that was only true back then. We live in a different time and place. That wouldn’t happen today. We wouldn’t mind today if having that Jesus in our midst destroyed our livelihood. We wouldn’t mind it if that Jesus drove our pigs into the sea. What silly people THOSE PEOPLE were. They put profits ahead of people.
Christianity and Capitalism
Our American Christianity wouldn’t have a problem with that Jesus. We haven’t wedded our Christianity to our capitalism, have we? A Christianity called the “Prosperity Gospel” would never make it in this country. We all know if it came down to choosing between Jesus and our standard of living, we’d all choose Jesus. Right?
But that point is low-hanging fruit compared to what happens next. There is something even crazier in this text. Something that doesn’t just flip my Christian script but flips me out.
It’s the last two verses in this text that I just can’t get my mind around. The man wants to follow Jesus. He wants to be a disciple.
And Jesus says, “NO!!! GO HOME!”
“The man BEGGED that he might be with Jesus, but Jesus SENT HIM AWAY.”Luke 8:38
Say what? Has Jesus forgotten the Great Commission he issues in Matthew’s gospel, to “Go and make disciples of all nations”?
Isn’t that the whole point of being a follower of Jesus – to make more followers?
Go and Make Disciples
All my life I have been given the perspective that a Christian has only two options in dealing with non-Christians: to CONVERT THEM or CONDEMN THEM. Those were the only options.
I grew up singing Onward Christian Soldiers, Marching as to War almost every Sunday, sometimes while walking up for Holy Communion – which confused the heck out of me, but that’s a topic for another time.
In my later years, it was Lift High the Cross, where the ‘hosts of God in conquering ranks combine.’
Through it all, the point was to conquer, combine, fall in line. Those were the only options – to convert or condemn – but is there a third option?
What do we do with a Jesus who simply heals a man and then tells him to “Go home”? Simply sends him on his way?
That’s it. Go back to living a normal everyday life. In your Gentile town, in your Gentile home, with your Gentile neighbors.
Now Jesus does give him one instruction: to “declare how much GOD has done for you.” In other words, “Go live a life of thanksgiving.”
Now it should be noted as well, the man doesn’t do that. It says he “went away, proclaiming to all the city what JESUS had done for him.”
What were Jesus’ instructions?
Which is not what Jesus asked of him. Jesus asked him to declare what GOD – NOT HE, JESUS — HAD done.
Maybe that’s why Jesus didn’t want him as a disciple – he couldn’t follow directions. Not like with Peter and James and John – when Jesus asked them to stay awake with him in the Garden of Gethsemane.
So what do we do with a Jesus who doesn’t convert or condemn, but simply heals and sets free? What do we do with a Jesus who doesn’t seek a follower but a thankful heart? What do we do with a Jesus who isn’t interested in how big his church is… errr, I mean… his parade of followers is?
But doesn’t our Christianity demand that we make ‘Christians’ of others, ‘followers of Jesus’ of others? Or is there something more to it than that?
You know, we often say, “Jesus saves.” But I wonder if we put the emphasis on the wrong word in that sentence.
We emphasize the word “Jesus,” but for Jesus, according to this passage, the emphasis is on the word “saves.”
Now a little word study. The word ‘save’ in Greek is the word ‘Soter.’ It means ‘healing,’ ‘wholeness.’ It’s not so much a rescue from, as much as a putting back together. A re-connecting – a re-membering.
To save someone is to heal someone, to make them whole.
This is what Jesus does. This is his mission. It isn’t to make followers of people but to make healthy people, whole people. Even in the midst of all the forces that control and dominate them.
Apparently, according to Jesus there is something more important than himself. The welfare, the healing, the wholeness of a person is more important than being a follower.
Bro. Jim, the Heretic
Am I a heretic for saying that? Do I lose my status as a Christian for saying that?
What if I serve as a healing force in someone’s life, then send them back home without forcing them to be a follower of Jesus… simply send them on their way…
Does that mean I don’t take my Christianity seriously? Or, according to this passage does it mean I am walking in the exact footsteps of Jesus?
What do we say about Christians who go to other countries and help them dig wells, build hospitals, purify their water… all without forcing others to attend a worship service or putting them through a bible study?
What do we say to Christian universities, hospitals, and oh I don’t know, let’s say a retreat center which simply provide a place of healing and wholeness, growth and understanding for others, without demanding an adherence to their belief system? And then, simply sends people on their way?
Are they doing that out of timidity towards Christ, or because of Christ? Because that is what this passage shows, exemplifies, demands of us.
You know, I’m starting to have a little more sympathy for those townsfolk in our Bible passage.
Am I a follower of Jesus?
I’m feeling a little discombobulated here. I’m not even sure I should have said everything I just said. It kind of scares me and frightens me. This Jesus isn’t at all what I expected. He’s pushing me, pulling me. Stretching me in ways that are very disturbing to my quiet and peaceful Christian life.
And now, even more questions…
Does this mean it’s wrong to call yourself a follower of Jesus? I certainly hope not. I would like to think of myself that way, though others may have their doubts about me. And there were, after all, disciples of Jesus. Twelve, if I remember correctly.
I guess my point is, or my question is: Is it mandatory for everyone else to respond to Jesus the same way I have?
Does my response to this person Jesus need to be prescriptive for others, or can I just let it be descriptive?
Tell people what God has done for you
Maybe that’s good advice for me as well. Maybe I’m more like the demoniac than I thought. Only my demon is wanting everyone to be and act like me.
So perhaps there is a third option other than converting or condemning others.
Like Jesus in this meal, who neither converts nor condemns the disciples this evening. But rather, simply gives himself over to the denier and the betrayer and the rest. And yes, I am aware of the words of Jesus, “But woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed…” in reference to Judas.
But in the end, Jesus’ final act is giving him his body and blood, re-membering himself to Judas, as an act of forgiveness.
And then – even then – Jesus sends him on his way.
Wednesday Respite is a 30-min contemplative service of scripture, prayer, music and a Spirited Touchpoint by Spirit in the Desert faith mentor, Rev. “Bro. Jim” Hanson.
Touchpoint is a reflection on where God’s story touches our life story. It is a short homily based on a biblical story of people in the Old and New Testaments and their relationship with God. Our spiritual ancestors’ experience of God’s grace connects with our lives in the present and our relationship with the Divine. Previous Touchpoints are available as PDFs or on SoundCloud.