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Sunday, August 28, 2016

2,000 Pigs

I've been slowly reading my way through Luke and last night I read the story of the Gerasene Demoniac who Jesus healed (Luke 8:26-39). This is such a familiar story, I could immediately tell you that there is a version with two demoniacs and another version with just one, and of course we can't forget the pigs that all rushed to their demise after the demons hopped from the man/men to the animals. But this story suddenly became the strangest story I've read yet.

It starts out simply enough. After the storm, Jesus and His disciples got out of the boat. The demoniac met them, naked, probably with broken chains dangling from his ankles, and began to shout at Jesus. If I was a disciple, I think I would have been cowering behind Jesus, even if I was a man, because it seems like a pretty terrifying encounter.

Looking at the details, though, makes the story fascinating. First, it says the demoniac was a man of the city. I'm reading from the NRSV and other versions say he was from the town. Regardless, this man was civilized, likely owned a home, and had worn clothes rather than shackles. He had suffered from demon-possession for a long time and now he lived in the tombs. It makes sense. Demons are of a dark nature and cemeteries are filled with dead people.

Mark is very descriptive about the demoniac's experience. He says they often tried to restrain him with the chains and shackles but he would pull apart the chains and break the shackles into pieces. That would have required superhuman strength. No one was able to subdue him and he would howl and bruise himself with stones (5:5). In other words, the demoniac was self-destructive, uncontrollable, and frightening.

When the demoniac saw Jesus, he fell down at His feet and he shouted. Falling down at someone's feet is both a sign of worship or acknowledging their authority and a sign of helplessness or desperately needing help from the person whose feet you're at. I think the demoniac was doing both. In his desperate situation, the humanity in him recognized a Saviour as so many others had done when reaching out for Jesus' healing. The demons in him recognized an authority above them and responded accordingly.

I'll pause here to think about the difference between an unclean spirit and a demon. In Luke, Jesus speaks to the unclean spirit and then the many demons reply. In Mark, it also begins by saying the man has an unclean spirit and that Jesus commands the unclean spirit to come out of the man. Matthew just mentions demons. We don't hear about a clean spirit in the Bible but David talks about a right spirit in Psalm 51:10 so this would be the opposite. The unclean spirit could be Satan's control and the demons would be the evil angels.

Why did the demons shout? There are other instances where they do the same thing, and Jesus always cautions them to be silent so the crowds don't hear them. Here, the scene takes place on a deserted hillside with tombs and a herd of pigs in the distance. Jesus doesn't tell the demons to be silent but I think they shouted because they wanted to be as annoying as possible.

Jesus asked the demoniac what his name was and he replied Legion. There was not one demon inside him but many. Here's where it gets interesting. The demons beg Jesus not to order them out out of the man back into the abyss (vs. 31). In other words, there is an abyss (is that outside of this world or is it floating around in the air not having a person to possess?), the demons had come from the abyss, and they didn't want to go back.

Why did the demons ask Jesus to let them go into the pigs? I started to wonder, then, if animals who turn savage and attack humans are demon-possessed. In the beginning, before sin, man had a natural dominion over animals. After sin, a protective barrier of fear was installed (and I wonder if it's even possible to say that fear could be protective, if God hasn't given us a spirit of fear). Regardless, there was now a clear separation and man's dominion over animals became forced.

The demons leave the man and go into the herd of pigs. But then the 2,000 pigs drown in the lake of Galilee. So logically, the demons no longer have pigs to possess which means they return to the abyss, correct? Or does it mean they simply float around the world looking for their next victim? When they begged not to be ordered back into the abyss, was that a distinct place? When Jesus ordered other demons to leave their victims, did He send them all to the abyss?

After the pigs all died, the swineherds rushed off and told everyone. Here is another strange scene. The people who have obviously known the man for many years and seen his struggles with demon-possession come out to see what's going on and see the man sitting at Jesus' feet, clothed and in his right mind (vs. 35). Then why are they afraid?

It would make sense that they would be afraid before. Afraid of a wild man who breaks chains and roams in the midst of tombs. They would be afraid of him because he could hurt their children or them. Now, when he is wearing clothes, sitting quietly, and obviously lucid, they are afraid. The testimony of those who saw the whole event doesn't convince them. They ask Jesus to leave and He honours their request.

It's interesting that there are two instances where Jesus is asked something and He honours that request. He lets the demons go into the pigs, which means all the pigs die, and He leaves the town after healing just the demoniac, which means the town loses out on all the blessings He would have given them. Wherever Jesus went, He healed the sick, He preached the gospel, and people's physical, emotional, and spiritual needs were met. But Jesus didn't insist on His presence and on His healing. He honoured their request. But He did leave a living testimony behind. The man who was healed shared his story in the whole city about what Jesus had done for him.

I think I identified most with the crowd that begged Jesus to go away. I was sad when I realized that they reacted just like the Pharisees did, seeing Jesus work miracles and instead of welcoming Him so more people could be healed, they worked as hard as they could to disrupt His ministry. In Sabbath School class yesterday, we talked about interruptions and how God can use those to get our attention and use us more effectively in ministry. I think this was a form of interruption in both the demoniac's life and the people of the city. The two reacted very differently, however, to the divine interruption.

The demoniac began to worship Jesus out of love and to listen to Him as a disciple. He then followed Jesus' command to go and share the good news with everyone in his city. The people of the city, on the other hand, viewed Jesus' interruption as detrimental to their economy and became very afraid of what else could happen. They didn't welcome the interruption; they pushed Jesus out of their lives and in doing so lost out of the possibility of many blessings.

I want to be aware of the interruptions that God brings into my life and I want to learn more about how to serve Him when it seems like life isn't going the way I'd planned for it to go. I don't want to become so focused on making money, having a comfortable life, and keeping the status quo that I can't recognize Jesus doing miracles in my life. Not every piece of the story makes complete sense but the overall picture does. Just as He did then, Jesus offers complete healing but He won't force Himself into my life. It's up to me to allow Him in. He will do all the rest.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Not Goodbye

I didn't realize it was possible to fall in love with a country. A person yes, but a country? But then I listened to Carrie Underwood's See You Again and I knew my heart had been captured. And I wondered why it took me so long to return when 17 years ago I'd already known. . .

They say the people make the country. I believe it. When I first lived here, I fell in love with a boy. He was dark as a night without stars but his smile lit up my teenage world where I struggled with the typical father-daughter rebellion. He was my first love, the one you always remember. When I left the first time, it was with a broken heart that begged to return.

There were other good memories, of course. Turning 16 and then 18, those milestone birthdays, and the stuffed dog two of my friends who were dating gave me. They didn't last but the dog returned with me when I did and celebrated his 18th birthday where I celebrated mine so long ago. Saturday night games and climbing trees and colouring little Happy Sabbath notes in church. The trees are still there and one dear church lady kept nearly all her notes in her Bible all those years.

It was only a little over 5 months after arriving when I packed my bags to return to the States for a brief visit. I'd dreamed of this day on my most difficult days when the homesickness seemed just a little too difficult to push away. But strangely, I wasn't feeling as excited as I'd expected. It was as if I'd been transported 17 years back and I was once again having to say goodbye without promise of hello. I didn't like the feeling at all.

I reassured myself that this was just temporary. I had a return ticket, my papers were all in order, I had a job to return to, and I was leaving all my belongings behind. I took a 35+ hour trek via the North Pole and after a week of the flu began to slowly busy myself with life again. Yet I couldn't shake the anxiety. I didn't want to stay here. All the well-meaning acquaintances who stopped me to say hello and ask if I was back for good didn't understand this was no longer home for me. Well, it had never been to begin with.

Then Carrie Underwood's song crept into my mind and I hunted for it on YouTube. Soon the familiar country strains filled the kitchen and soothed my restless heart. I echoed the lyrics but not to a person. To a country. My country.

I will forever be grateful to the US for country music, freedom, flipflops in January, wide open freeways, and Chipotle. I will be grateful that here I graduated from high school, college and graduate school without debt, learned to drive without having to wear a full veil, and opened my own bank account without a husband or father as co-signatory. I will be grateful for cheap gas, BOGO sales, Dr. Phil's sage advice, and an affordable Tracfone cellphone. But try as hard as I have, my heart always wandered and refused to pledge allegiance when it had to be true elsewhere.

My heart belongs to a land of idiosyncratic clashes of values and emblems. Crumbling buildings stand beside towering skyscrapers suspended entirely out of glass. Valentino and Michael Kors vie for space in a city that hides thousands of struggling refugees. Cars honk on streets where order has vanished unless a police officer directs traffic. Gunshots mingle with fireworks, confusion as to which is celebrating and which is a warning from the street side pharmacists in the valley. Alongside ostentatious mosques stand equally ostentatiously built Orthodox cathedrals, many of them boasting preservation through the multitude of wars.

I dodge barrelling cars to reach my destination safely. I learn to laugh at taxi drivers who offer me $7 to marry them for American papers. Papers which, I inform them, I sadly cannot provide as I am not an American citizen though my Cali-girl accent seems to say otherwise. I listen to a friend and the next time I'm able to order fruit cocktails (think fresh fruit) for everyone in the local language. I am used to hiking up a hill carrying my month's groceries in two hands and a backpack. I now accept the humidity and its accompany sweat as status quo.

17 years ago, I said goodbye and the country, the boy, were gone. I grieved for a few days but then I had to put the tears aside to focus on living in the New Country. Life wasn't easy and there was no money to return or even to phone. Eventually I thought I'd forgotten. My heart hadn't. In two weeks I return. This time I will see it again. This time I'm going home.