A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Jesus Go Away: A Lectionary Reflection on Luke 8:26-39

Luke 8:26-39

In April 1995 the Sunday after the Oklahoma City bombing, I knew it was impossible to ignore mentioning such a heinous and dramatic act in my sermon. I don't remember much of what I said that day, but I did mention that it was important for all Christians to pray for Timothy McVeigh as Jesus instructed us to do so in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:44). I acknowledged it would be a difficult task considering the anger everyone felt, myself included; but Jesus gave us a directive to do so and pray for him we must.

After the service as I was greeting in the back of the sanctuary, one individual approached me obviously incensed by my comments and told me in no uncertain terms that she would not be praying for McVeigh and she didn't care if Jesus told us to do so. I have to say that while I admired her honesty, it made me wonder how many times all of us who follow Jesus desire a discipleship of convenience-- following Jesus when it is easy-- loving only those who love us, failing to love those whom Jesus loved and died for-- which is everyone.

In Luke chapter eight, Jesus is in Gentile territory in the north "opposite Galilee." As Jesus steps out of the boat on dry land he is met by a pitiful sight of a man-- naked and dirty-- a man living among the cemetery, the land of the dead, which seems appropriate because though he is alive he is indeed deceased in a way worse than death. He is demon possessed. His life his not his own. He is in bondage to evil. Many years ago, Bob Dylan sang, "You Gotta Serve Somebody." This man is owned by forces that have almost destroyed his humanity, his identity as one created in the image of God. He is occupied by a legion of demons. In the Roman army a legion constituted 6,000 soldiers.

In his encounter with the man Jesus does what always happens when he confronts evil-- he casts it out and restores life and wholeness to those in its chains. As Charles Wesley poetically writes,

Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

Jesus has done for this man what no one else could do. When Jesus, God's Son sets us free, we are free indeed.

But not everyone is celebrating this man's liberation. The townsfolk have watched this prophet send their profits go over the cliff as Jesus' casts the demons into a nearby herd of swine. All too often it is true that when people are in great need to address that need requires sacrifice on the part of others. Some might complain that isn't fair, but it is reality. The price the people of the village have to pay for this man's wholeness is financial struggle for the foreseeable future. Knowing what they are facing makes it impossible to rejoice and celebrate this man's recovery from the cemetery, the land of the dead. If Jesus stays around what might happen next. It's one thing to do some nice things for people, but bringing the kind of goodness that turns things upside down upsetting the routine of daily existence is too much. "Jesus," they say, "please go away."

In one sense, we might be able to excuse their response. They are, after all, Gentiles-- pagans-- who do not understand the redemptive ways of the God of Israel who is now acting in Jesus; but for those of us who know and understand and believe in Jesus, we have no excuse when we opt for a convenient brand of discipleship that is all too happy to do decent things for others that require little time, effort, and sacrifice-- especially economic sacrifice-- but feel resentment when we are asked to follow Jesus in a way that calls for the kind of sacrifice that resembles the cruciform shape of ministry. When we complain about being put upon and having to be generous until it hurts for the sake of others, we do not reflect the image of the one we follow who sacrificed it all for us on the cross. When we justify our inaction because it is not fair to us we forget that Jesus' sacrifice on our behalf was not fair to him. It should be remembered that when Jesus asked for the cup of crucifixion to be taken from him, it was a plea for the hope of another way. Jesus never complained that what he was about to do was unfair.

When we employ our discipleship only when it's convenient, we are just like the people in the country of the Gerasenes telling Jesus to go away lest he continue to insist we choose between our convenience or our Christianity. When we choose the former in essence we say, "I don't care what Jesus says or does, I'm not doing it."

By the end of the story in Luke 8:39, it is clear that Jesus leaves Gerasene with people still in bondage. The man among the tombs has been liberated, but the witnesses to his liberation are trapped in their own kind of slavery. As I said, in one sense, they have an excuse-- they are pagans who do not know the God of Israel.

Those of us who do have no such justification. Is our discipleship one of convenience? Do we send Jesus away when confronted with the cruciform shape of ministry?


Unknown said...

As I was preparing on this text this morning "And Can It Be That I Should Gain?" was playing in my head. Thanks for your reflections

Allan R. Bevere said...


You're welcome.