“When he 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 8:28-24
Isn’t it amazing that all Jesus says in these verses is ‘Go!’?
The whole town talked.
Those tending the pigs talked.
But Jesus was quiet, except for the, ‘Go!’
Then the town folk told Jesus the same.
Strange, isn’t it?
But that’s not the only thing that stands out in this story. I noticed that these two demon-possessed men were on ‘the other side’ (of the lake), in the ‘region’ of the Gadarenes, and they were among the ‘tombs.’ I get the impression that these people were tucked away as far as possible from humanity. There were some pigs nearby, and maybe a few folks, but there wasn’t much. These men, living among the tombs, were as good as dead. That’s why they were living in the tombs—among the dead. No one considered these two living men alive.
No one could see these men as men any longer. They were dead, some sort of zombies right out of Resident Evil. And that is what we do with dead people: we banish them to the place of the dead. A place suitable only for the dead and pigs.
I suspect we do so because we do not want to look at them, or have to deal with them, or participate in their lives. They are dead and Lord knows that we mere humans, mere Christians, have no power to raise the dead. At least that’s what proper theology teaches us, right? That’s why when people die, we quit praying: there’s nothing else we can do.
Jesus was desperate to get to these men and the devil was desperate to prevent him doing so. The storm on the sea was a measure of prevention by the enemy: Jesus must not get to those men, he must not because he will see them as they are, as men. He will see them as men who have a spark of humanity in them still, men who can be saved, men who can be resurrected and brought back to life. “No one could pass that way.” But no one was trying to either.
Stanley Hauerwas’ latest book is called Hannah’s Child. It is a compelling read even if some of the stories he tells make the reader a bit uneasy. I was surprised to learn that Prof. Hauerwas spent twenty years of his life married to and living with a woman who had a mental illness. It is a remarkable story for this simple reason: Hauerwas never put his wife away. He stayed with her until she left him. He did not banish her to the tombs even though it was quite clear that Anne had serious issues that could have caused harm to Hauerwas or their son. This story, told in Hauerwas’ pitch perfect tone, makes this statement he utters near the end all the more remarkable: “In other words, to privilege Jesus’ cross and resurrection is to make a claim about reality that invites and requires Christians to see the world differently than others” (263).
A lot of Hauerwas’ theological conclusions frighten me and in no way persuade me, but I’ll say this for him: the cross and resurrection did cause him to see things differently. He saw his wife as one he loved because of Jesus. He saw his Anne as one whom he could in no way abandon or banish to the tombs. That aspect of his story alone is reason enough for me to spend time with his books.
I wonder if the two men in the ‘region’ of the Gadarenes ever got lonely? I wonder if their own company ever bored them and caused them anxiety? What does it mean to be ‘possessed by a devil’ anyhow to such an extent that people fear you and banish you to the place of the dead? I wonder why people were so afraid? Do you think it is easier to put away such people and pretend the world is not inhabited by such people? Do you think we are safer when they are put away?
The world sickens me most of the time. I was at the Emergency Room tonight with my son and wife. We were waiting on the Dr’s to set Samuel’s broken arm when I noticed an old lady laying on a bed in a different room. She was all alone. No family. No brother. No mother. No husband. No children. No pastor. No preacher. No friends. No sisters. No nothing. I forgot myself for a moment, old pastor habits are hard to break, and went into her room and spoke with her for a couple of minutes. She had a speech impediment, was very old, and I suspect she had some, at least, mild mental retardation. I left her room when I heard my son’s agony as they set the bones.
A little later, I peeked out of my son’s room to see if she was still there. I was on my way towards her when a nurse headed me off and gently told me that the law prohibited me from going into her room and speaking with her if I was not family. Seriously. The law prohibited me from speaking to a 90 year old woman who had no one else to speak with, no one else to comfort her. The law finds it better for her to be utterly alone than it does for someone to love her.
I sort of felt like Jesus for a moment when the people pleaded with him to leave, and if that is too self-serving, then let’s just say I understood in a very limited way how the two demon-possessed men must have felt when the town folk pleaded with Jesus to leave—Jesus, the only one who had looked at these two men and saw men, the only one who had dared to go where no one else would go. This Jesus was pleaded with: “Go!” “Leave!”
As disciples of Jesus we see the world differently than others. Maybe not better, maybe not perfectly, but differently. We see people differently. We are not ones who banish the living to tombs and regions. Instead, we are the ones who go to the tombs, or hospital emergency room rooms, or home, and we love the ones that the rest of the world has banished. We refuse to put these people away because they, too, are sons and daughters of the Father. We go to the places Jesus went. We love the people Jesus loved. We take the power of life with us into the tombs and invade the territory of the enemy. We bring light to dark places.
And so, I suppose if we are followers of Jesus, we will make the trip across demon enraged seas, we will pass the place no one can pass, we will find a way to get to the people who are held in bondage by the power of the enemy, and we will resurrect them and bring them back to life. Why? Because I suspect that the thing dead people want the most is life, a human touch, a spark of their humanity. I believe that Jesus holds this power and is waiting to unleash it through his disciples. He is already going into those places, blazing a trail ahead of us. All that remains is whether or not we will go with him.
He challenges us to see the world differently.