“Costly Change”. Mark 5: 14-20. Friday Meditation. 06.05.20. Alan Neale.
Trinity Church, Newport, RI.

Mark 5 14 Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15 When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. 17 Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. 18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

These verses conclude the story of the demoniac named Legion (for he consisted of many demons/personalities). Jesus commands the demons to enter 2000 swine and, rushing to their death over a cliff, the demons and swine are destroyed.

And now the story continues… one cannot but feel sympathy for the anxiety of those caring for the swine and the angst felt by the owners of the swine. To quote another Gospel story, “To what purpose is this waste?”. Really, all that can be said for now is that an extreme situation called for extreme measures; a Band-Aid approach to a radical, deep-seated problem was not sufficient. The time for containment and neglect had ended, the time for naming the problem and solving it had come.

This represents the work, the pattern of the Holy Spirit in our lives individually, as churches and families and, as we now with pain and fear see, across our nation.
The ones tending the swine (the same word is used for feeding people spiritually!) carry the message to the town and they know that the message they carry signifies far more than the mere words. Something of moment, of signal importance has taken place. And so when the townspeople come, they come not only to “see” as in “I see what you mean” but also to look at, to gaze, to take the whole situation into their deepest being.

And what do they see? Oh my, goodness, the once frenetic, dangerous, wild and weird man is sitting, clothed and in his right mind. Seated… the word suggests that he is now at home and rested, he has found a place where he belongs; clothed… he no longer attracts the disdain of others and he has found self-respect; and in his right mind… he is now sober-minded, self-controlled, he is temperate and not given to wild and irrational responses.

Friends this is what we are aching for, yearning for, praying for in our country today beset with pandemic, police violence and systemic racism. We want a nation returned to us that sits well and comfortably in this land, we want a nation that has the respect of its neighbors as well as its citizens, we want a nation that is marked by self-control, temperate responses. There is far to go.

This is all too much for the people… the change in status of the demoniac, their possessions, their control. And so instead of engaging Jesus to work with them for a better future they plead, they exhort, they beseech Jesus to leave… and leave asap. All this motivated by a dread fear that has probably ruled their hearts and minds for years.

Radical change leading to wholeness requires radical surrender leading to service.
And the man… well, it is lovely that he now wishes to spend his time with the loving, sensitive, brave, strong Jesus who has restored him to safety, soundness and sanity. But, again, Jesus presents another course of action… go into the towns and show them by word, but especially by deed, the power of God available for those who are ready to admit/confront their need and who are ready to receive the power of God to transform lives.

At some point as nationwide protests begin to ebb a little, maybe there will be a tendency to seek comfort and solace in the presence of like-minded people but this will likely only perpetuate the pandemic of racism and of self-centredness. Empowered by the Spirit, accompanied by Jesus, we are charged to go out into the towns and confront the evil and propagate the good, to confront the prejudice and propagate the inclusive and not only by our words… but by our lives and examples.
Lord, in mercy, help us. Amen