2020.06.28 Daily Devotional

The Upper Room[1] devotional reflection for Sunday, June 28th comes to us from Cassius Rhue of South Carolina.

Mark 5:1-20 NRSV[2]    1 They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. 2 And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. 3 He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him anymore, even with a chain; 4 for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains, he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. 6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; 7 and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” 8 For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10 He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; 12 and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea. 14 The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. 17 Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.

Each time I read verses 16-17, I find myself in stunned disbelief. Despite another wonderful and amazing miracle, the crowd still did not want to accept Jesus and emphatically asked him to leave. In the past, reading these verses often led me to wonder: Why would they want Jesus to leave when he had healed a demon-possessed man and cast out a legion of evil spirits? Why would they reject the presence of Christ?

Recently as I read these verses, I had a different question. This time I asked myself, Would I ever do the same thing? I realized that at times I too am asking Jesus to leave me. When I choose anger and hateful speech, choose my ways over God’s commands, choose to misrepresent the truth, or choose to stand quiet when I should speak out, I am rejecting Jesus. The people may have rejected Jesus, but the demon-possessed man, now fully rational, was the one who got it right. He knew that Jesus was someone to follow and stay near. May we learn not to send Christ away but instead to steadfastly follow him.

Prayer: Dear Lord, forgive us when we choose paths that separate us from you. Instead, help us choose paths of grace and love. Amen.

 – Cassius Rhue

Friends,

The scripture in Mark recounts one of Jesus’ most stirring and striking healing stories.  A man, long possessed with demons, is healed and word spreads throughout the nearby town.  The towns people come out to see and are astonished by the once possessed man, clearly calm and coherent.  Instead of asking Jesus to dwell with them, to heal others in their town, they ask Jesus to leave.  Cassius’ question is one some of us have asked: “Why would they reject the presence of Christ?”  Yet, as Cassius later reflects, he recognized times when he had rejected Jesus:

I realized that at times I too am asking Jesus to leave me.  When I choose anger and hateful speech, choose my ways over God’s commands, choose to misrepresent the truth, or choose to stand quiet when I should speak out, I’m rejecting Jesus.

Have you ever asked Jesus to leave you alone?  To allow you to continue doing the things you want to do, although you knew it was not what Jesus wanted you to do?  It seems antithetical for people of faith, who seek God’s will to manifest “on earth as it is in heaven,” [Matthew 6:10 NRSV] to reject the bringer of God’s will.  Cassius’ admission gives us a key insight, as he notes that he is rejecting Jesus’ desire to change behaviors and attitudes.  Accepting Christ into our hearts, also unleashes Christ’s power to change the things within us that are not like Christ.  That is what the people in our text feared.  The people in the town realized that if Jesus could heal the demoniac man, then he could heal the parts of them they wanted to keep.  They feared Jesus would change the parts of themselves they do not want to change.  The parts that shaped their perceptions and worldviews.

We have witnessed an international surge toward addressing the systemic issue of racism and bias.  There have been calls for legislation to dismantle oppressive systems, the removal of confederate statues and flags along with reform of policing procedures.  Yet, the legislative changes alone will not undue or halt racism.  To undue racist ideology requires a willful change of the heart and spirit.  Yes, legislation is needed to undue the systemic instruments of injustice, but legislation must be couple with a recognition and transformation of one’s biased worldview for an oppressive ideology to be undone.

Changing the heart and spirit is work God can accomplish, in partnership with a willing soul that seeks to live and view the world the way God does.  The demoniac man wanted healing, he wanted to change his life and the way he looked at the world.  In contrast, the people in the town did not want transformation.  Note, Jesus does not permit the man healed of the demonic spirits to journey with him.  Instead, he sends him back to the town and his family, that he may proclaim all Jesus had done for him.  Although they sent Jesus away, the people in the town would see and hear the impact of Jesus’ ministry every day.   I am encouraged, by the number of people who have used their voice and privilege to provoke uncomfortable conversations toward real transformation.

Cassius’ reflection challenges each of us examine and evaluate whether we have accepted Jesus’ transformative power in every aspect of our lives:

I realized that at times I too am asking Jesus to leave me.  When I choose anger and hateful speech, choose my ways over God’s commands, choose to misrepresent the truth, or choose to stand quiet when I should speak out, I’m rejecting Jesus.

-Pastor Anthony

[1] https://www.upperroom.org/

[2] https://www.biblestudytools.com/nrs/mark/5.html