Did your mom ever tell you to be careful in shops with fragile things? “You break it; you buy it” is the mantra. We get these warnings because moms do not want to buy broken things.
I have made many trips to Kenya and driving there can be an epic experience. The locals will heard their goats and cattle in small flocks sort-of down the side of the road. Those goats, sheep and cows are clearly on the “do-not-kill-with-your-car” list. If you kill them prepare to buy them!
Well think back to that exorcism in Mark 5. On that day the demons of one seriously possessed person were disgorged into 2,000 pigs who plunged to their deaths in the Sea of Galilee. If I worry about killing one sheep with my car in Kenya imagine what might happen with the loss of so many pigs. The pig owners lost a fortune. Well, let us see what happened.
A passage about a panic
14 The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 16 And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. 17 And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. (Mark 5:14-17–ESV)
“Tell me! Tell me!”
So Jesus’ work with the devils was not done in isolation. The shepherds of the pigs saw it and probably feared for their own lives. Finding themselves rather without a job they ran off becoming newsboys in the surrounding cities and towns. A larger, curious and somewhat worried audience slowly gathered. “Tell me! Tell me!” they would have said as they arrived. The man with a reputation legendary for its raucousness was now self-possessed. He was, it would seem, controlled by this other man: Jesus.
I have always figured that the people would have been happy to have the problem solved. To have this maniac messing around in the tombs was a problem. It was far worse than just imagining a house in your neighborhood is haunted. The place really was haunted and this man really was dangerous. That problem was solved, but the solution turned scarier than the man’s insanity. They would not have known how Jesus did what he did, but they knew it as something tremendous, and it unsettled them.
“Please don’t disturb me.”
That is how William Barclay puts it in his book: The Gospel of Mark which is part of The New Daily Study Bible. His viewpoint is what I will expound here given its practicality.
Barclay says, “On the whole, the one thing people want is to be let alone.”
I think the people were distraught over the prowess of Jesus, but probably more distraught they were at the disturbance wrought by the exorcism. They were confronted with spiritual matters too big for them. They were discomfited by the now sane man. The comfort of their possessions was disturbed. They preferred to usher Jesus away from them so they could get back to their old ways.
Don’t disturb my comfort!
Perhaps you have heard of Annelies Marie Frank? As a result of the wide publication of her diary1 she is now known as the Jewish girl Anne Frank. Her hiding placed was betrayed and deported to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where it is presumed she died from Typhus in 1945.
Why do I include this at the head of a discussion about Jesus and the possessed man? Well, Otto Frank, Anne’s father tried desperately to get her free from Amsterdam, but the world was not ready for more migrants from that place. Immigration is causing a global buzz at this point and sitting at its center is the interminable war in Syria. On August 25, 2016 Nicholas Kristoff published an article in the New York Times entitled: “Anne Frank Today is a Syrian Girl.”
What is the world saying in general? Immigrants are a burden. How many in the west are saying, “We don’t want your refugees. It is a burden to us. It costs us too much money. You stay where you are.” I think we are torn by the troubles they face and then we face in our burden, but we must ask ourselves if we are more interested in holding on to our comfort rather than setting it aside for the comfort of others?
The people from the surrounding towns had to leave their comforts and go see what had happened. Some family members are probably saying, “What did Uncle Legion do this time?” Or, if he was deemed to be in a better frame of mind, “Will we have to bring Uncle Legion back to our house again!? The last time he did…” What about the owners of the pigs? Maybe they were busy with other things and did not want to be bothered with going to inspect what used to be their flocks.
How much easier it is to say, “Go I wish you well, keep warm and well fed,” but do nothing for the needy. Of course, this is a great oversimplification, but for us as individuals what are we willing to give up for others? What about the electrician for Georgia Power who must brave the weather to get our lights back on? What about me preferring my own sleep to getting up in the night to help someone with an injured eye? Or what if I am annoyed at having to teach ophthalmology rather than just do ophthalmology?
Barclay says the following:
“We are followers of one who gave up the glory of heaven for the narrowness of earth, who gave up the joy of God for the pain of the Cross. It is human not to want to have our comfort disturbed; it is divine to be willing to be disturbed that others may have more.”
Don’t disturb my possessions
Jesus had wrecked enough they seemed to say. There had been a disturbing loss of their possessions. While they did not say they preferred pigs over the previously possessed man that must have been implied. They valued them over and above a hurting and outcast man.
Barclay concludes this section with the following:
“We can soon see whether a man really accepts his faith and whether he really believes in his principles, by seeing if he is willing to become poorer for them.”
Don’t disturb my beliefs
We can become settled in our beliefs wrapping them too tightly around us. I have often declared people and myself included to be “rut-lovers.” That means we get in a rut of life and want to stay there. It happens as a physician where newer techniques are approaches to disease are not adopted because they are unfamiliar and the old has worked. I think this is one of the reasons that an academic environment is healthy for the medical community. There are always fresh young students of medicine asking questions and probing for answers.
Of course certain doctrines of the faith should be rock solid, but we must not be so hardened that we miss new viewpoints on our lives and our world. How firm a foundation the faith of our fathers must be, but such shapes must not blind and bind us.
There is a cowardice of thought and a lethargy of mind and a sleep of the soul which are terrible things.
Barclay also expanded these categories to say “Don’t let unpleasant subjects disturb the pleasant decorum of my religion,” and “Don’t let personal relationships disturb my religion.” As he concluded that section he said “There is a type of religion which is fonder of committees than it is of housework, which is more set on quiet times than it is on human service. It prides itself on serving the Church and spending itself in devotion–but in God’s eyes it has got things the wrong way round.” Those are convicting statements as well.
The people of the Gerasenes perceived that the departure of Jesus would be best. They were troubled, not pleased.
What will we do? Are we able to see what God is doing around us and jump into the middle of it or do we prefer to discard it? The answer to this question is personal and not clear cut. Our motives may be, but visualization of God’s doings can be murky. Personality shortcomings can be sinful or can merely be labeled as sinful. We must not merely cast off comforts nor hold them so tenaciously that others are not helped. The greatest wisdom and direction can only come from God himself into our immediate circumstances. Oh that we are not cowards in our thinking or sleepy in our praying.