I’ve been reading Drew Dyck’s book, “Yawning at Tigers,” while at the same time doing Bible study in the book of Matthew. I know God sets things up sometimes to team teach us, and that’s what’s going on with me.
Dyck’s book is about the fear of God. A God who is untamable, who could vaporize us at any moment. And he should do that. It’s about our casual attitude toward a God with that kind of power.
Then I have my study in Matthew. In Matthew 8, Jesus casts some demons out, sending them to a herd of pigs, and the pigs flipped out and drowned in a lake. Understandably, the herdsmen who were in charge of those pigs were not at all happy with Jesus. They did what a lot of us would probably do: they ran and told on him.
We can’t really fault the people who lived in that town for their reaction. You can almost see it now: a group of guys comes in from the field. They’re nobody special, just some guys you might know from high school. They don’t usually make much of a fuss, because they spend their days in the fields watching livestock. Being out there, they have to be content with a pretty calm and predictable lifestyle. In fact, a good day for them is probably a day when nothing is happening.
Today something is happening. The pig-herders have come running in, completely out of breath and wide-eyed. Something has happened to them that is unmistakably bad: their entire herd has run into a lake, of their own accord, and drowned. They are out of a job. They are really angry.
But they’re not done talking. They say that some guy made it happen. “You know those two guys who run around scaring everybody? The guys who nobody wants to go near? That guy sent some demons out of those two guys and the demons went into our pigs!”
You almost don’t believe them. This story sounds pretty kooky. But then you take into account who the story is coming from: some guys who live for the mellowest of lives. They’re all telling the same story, and it’s pretty bizarre.
Nevermind that if the story is true, you have a whole other road to travel now. Matthew says, “no one could go through that area” because of the craziness of these two demon-possessed guys. This in itself seems of great value, since I have a small child and I would be thrilled that she wouldn’t be scared to death anytime we got near the place.
Nevermind that two guys now have their lives back, no longer slaves to a supernatural power which was literally destroying them. I kind of wonder if those two guys didn’t come wandering in behind the herdsmen… wouldn’t that have been crazy.
No, nevermind all that. You’re not thinking about the two free man or your new road or your no-longer-scared children. You’re thinking of you. You’re thinking of how comfortable you are with all this. What you’re thinking is: we need to make sure this guy doesn’t do anything else crazy.
So you run him off.
Matthew says that “the entire town came out to meet Jesus, but they begged him to go away and leave them alone.”
That’s pretty heavy. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration. I think everyone really was worked into a lather, and fast. It wasn’t like there was a lot of time for this decision to get made, they heard the story and the entire town decided to nip this thing in the bud. Jesus arrives just after these pig farmers, and everyone already thinks they know him. They know him well enough, anyway. Well enough to know that this isn’t the kind of nonsense that they want in their town.
The region of Gadarenes, where this miracle took place, was a city of pride. Bible Gateway says, “It became one of the proudest cities of Syria.” It was a place that built an image and was interested in keeping that image alive.
No wonder they didn’t want this craziness happening. They didn’t want the demon-possessed men any more than they wanted Jesus ruining peoples’ jobs. He took care of one problem, so they set about taking care of him: Go away, Jesus.
The same thing happens in our lives.
Jesus moves in, and maybe he cleans some stuff out. That’s one of his qualities, after all. The holy and pure Son of God cannot inhabit our life and live alongside the garbage that we think we love so much. Sometimes it’s a conscious decision to let it go, or sometimes, having more Jesus just means we have less distractions.
Sometimes we don’t want those things to go. We mourn their loss and wish them back, but we are in a quandry: we can’t keep him and keep them. So we have to make a choice: our own comfort or following him. There’s probably some in-between state too, where we claim to follow him but really aren’t. The result has to be the same: either we follow him or we tell him to go.
I pray that we allow him to come in and wreck what he needs to. It’s a hard choice, and the cuts that he makes are sometimes painful. The end result is worth it, though, if we can stick with it: new roads to travel and the exit of fear.