26 Jun God cares for us
Jesus first approached the outsider
My friend’s mom is a labor and delivery nurse with 40 years of experience. She has seen a lot and when my friend and I were pregnant at the same time, she had much wisdom to share, which helped answer the many questions of new moms. One of the things she has noticed over the years is that when a mother comes in anxious, unsure if she can do it, worried and stressed out especially about labor and delivering their baby — the nurses relieve so much worry by sharing a simple statement: “We’ll take good care of you.” In her nursing experience over the years, she has shared this simple statement with countless women. And for each new mom it is this exact thing that they need to hear: that they aren’t alone, they aren’t forgotten, that in the middle of this big, life-changing thing that is about to happen, there will be people who will help care for them. And knowing that they will be taken care of causes a physical change within each woman — she can relax and focus on what she needs to do knowing she isn’t alone.
Jesus was familiar with the power feeling alone can have over us. Jesus in a Gentile town finds the one guy that no one wants to be around — the guy that is sick — it says he is possessed by demons and cannot be controlled. This man is outside of the social structure and whether it really was supernatural demons or what we now call mental illness, this man was separated from his neighbors and his family. His behavior makes him really hard to be around. When Jesus arrives, he doesn’t head into the town center and go to the town leaders first for a welcome and show of hospitality, instead Jesus approaches the most outcast outsider he has encountered yet, talks to him, learns his name and heals him.
There are many things that show us who Jesus is in this story. The first is his noticing the person most in need in this new community, the second is helping this man to be well and the third is to have mercy even on the demons — sending these evil spirits into pigs. All of Jesus actions are amazing signs of God’s power in the world, but they are also ways that Jesus is challenging the power of this new community he just entered. He is calling out the ways that the town social structure is broken. After he heals the man, he tells him to reenter the community, to reconcile and to become a leader telling the good news. Jesus is calling attention to the power of God in this Gentile place. This isn’t a Jewish community (they are raising non-kosher pigs after all) and here is Jesus invoking the power of God to heal this man. He is showing us who God cares for and who is in charge. And finally, Jesus even has mercy on the demon spirits — a strange part of the story — he allows them to enter the pigs, but they ultimately run into the sea. This part of the story is indeed weird and also would be extremely controversial in this place: What now were the owners of the pigs to do now they have lost their livelihood? What is Jesus saying to them here? When Jesus changes the situation of the demon-possessed man, he also changes the situation of those in community with him.
We all have our demons
This story of demon possession, pigs, and this community that doesn’t know how to respond can suddenly seem more connected to our modern situation than at first hearing. Because we all have our own demons — things that consume us, overwhelm us, and make us feel separated from God and the people we love. We maybe wouldn’t claim to have 6,000 of them, like this man, who calls himself Legion (which literally means 6,000 Roman soldiers). But we all have something, whether it is chronic illness or grief or self-doubt, whether it is our own insecurities or our own pride- sometimes we too act in ways that separate us from our own community and from God. There are things in us that we carry around that hurt us and others. And if we had as many demons as this man, we might be prone to live as uncontrollably as he does too. I mean how are you supposed to act when you are so filled up with demons?
And yet, this demon-possessed man is who Jesus talks to, it is who Jesus cares for. His first question of the man is “what’s your name?” He knows that a name is a way to connect with someone, using a name is a way to show someone that we care who they are. For a man disconnected from so much, his name tells Jesus his current identity. In Jesus’ time, it was also thought that knowing someone’s name gave you use of their power. And it is with this power, alongside Jesus’ own that show us Jesus has authority from God to change people’s situations. He sees people in distress and is able to speak simple words to change everything. While our labor and delivery nurses have “We’re going to take good care of you,” Jesus has the authority to dispel our demons by simply knowing our name.
The role of the community in this story is important too. They respond to this man by tying him up and trying to control his demons, but they just can’t. This community also doesn’t seem to appreciate bearing the cost of healing this man — the loss of a herd of pigs. So while the man in this story becomes a devoted follower of Jesus, the other people in the community are afraid and reject Jesus. Seeing a miracle like this man being healed didn’t change their hearts; it filled them with fear and makes them wonder what it takes to be a follower of Jesus Christ. It makes us wonder too about how we might respond.
God’s amazing goodness
Our Vacation Bible School took place this week — 80 kids and dozens of youth helpers and adult volunteers gathered at our Verona campus to sing songs about God, share Bible stories, play games and eat themed snacks. It was a fun week and reminds us of how beautiful God’s family looks when different generations gather together and enjoy each other’s company. Our middle school and high school youth helpers not too long ago attended VBS and now they are the mentors that the young kids look up to and they form these bonds over the week that look like siblings in Christ. We also have a tradition of encouraging the kids to donate to our neighbors in need: This year we collected school supplies for a couple different schools. When I asked the kids why they did this, why bring school supplies to help another child? They had all kinds of answers. One 4-year-old went on a long monologue about how unfair it was that there were kids out there that didn’t have what he had. And others said they did it simply because it was a nice thing to do. It is of course, a nice thing, and our want to be kind that can drive us to share what we have, but it is also God’s amazing goodness in our lives — knowing that all we have, God has provided, our life our breath, our wealth — all of it comes from God.
The grace of Jesus Christ is freedom from our demons and what follows is our grateful response to God for this great gift through our generosity, care and kindness toward others. And so, we are both the demon-possessed man, which is why we need Jesus and we are the community members in this story. They need Jesus too, to remind them that there is one God, whose love is for them, whose power is greater than any other’s and whose actions of goodness inspire our own. Following Jesus means that our situation is going to change, but God will also be there caring for us. And we get to decide how we will respond. Will we share the good news like our brother who was healed, or will we be afraid of the cost of discipleship? Can we see the gift that is freedom from our demons or will we instead focus on what we might lose?
May God’s goodness and compassion through Jesus Christ dispel our demons and our fears and fill us with faith so we too might share the good news of our Savior in our words and in our actions of love.
Thanks be to God. Amen