April 20, 2015

Go Away!

Devotion for the Week...

There are a number of stories in the Bible that I find interesting, often because I wonder, "What were they thinking?" This is one such story:

      "When he [Jesus] arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”
       Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”
       He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region" (Matthew 8:28-34).

The miracle of healing the demon-possessed men is amazing, but that's never really been why this story intrigued me. I've always wondered why the townspeople "pleaded with him to leave their region." They so intensely didn't want Jesus near their town that they begged him to leave. Why? What were they thinking?

Jesus had just miraculously healed two men, which you would think would have made the people welcome him with a celebration, but that healing had caused the death of a large herd of pigs. Someone, or maybe several someones, owned those pigs. Were all of the townspeople somehow affected by this loss and its repercussions? Would that explain why they begged Jesus to leave - so that there would be no further financial consequences? That was the answer I found in the commentaries I read while preparing to write this devotion (you can find some of them here and here if you are interested), and it seems to make sense. In fact, it seems rather prevalent today.

The townspeople were more interested in the here and now than in the kingdom of God which is to come. They were more interested in preserving their financial security than in anything Jesus could offer them, and they certainly didn't want to take any chances that Jesus would change things for them. They quite liked the status quo, thank you very much. We may not have pigs we're worried about safeguarding, but I think we often have the same attitude as these townspeople.

Jesus does not physically walk into our towns, so we do not actually plead with him to leave as they did, but it's possible that our actions are just as unwelcoming to Him. How often do we neglect things like prayer or Bible reading because we're too tired, or too busy with other things? How often do we ignore the Holy Spirit's prompting to stop gossiping or being judgmental? How often do we avoid doing the things we know we should be doing because doing them will be too costly, either in terms of money, time or popular opinion?

If Jesus were to suddenly appear physically in our towns, would we be comfortable with Him? Would we be able to live our daily lives as they are, knowing that we could run into Him at any moment? Would we find ourselves changing the way we live, trying to live up to His standard so that we wouldn't be caught doing things we shouldn't? 

Would we find ourselves wishing He would go away so we could continue living as we always have, without worrying about things like righteousness, holiness and pleasing God?

The fact of the matter is, of course, that though we can't see Him physically, He is actually right here with us. Not only in our towns, but in our homes and workplaces. What sort of reception are we giving Him?

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