Friday, January 30, 2009

Waterlogged Pigs and Skeptical Neighbors

I haven't written for a while. And for that, I apologize. Just in case you have some sort of interest in what is going on in my life: The semester is rolling along, though I feel like I am already getting behind. This semester should be really easy, but what I'm discovering is that the less work I have to do, the less motivated I am to do anything. I end up just sitting around all day, even though I don't have much to do. I turned 21 last week, and celebrated by eating buffalo wings with some of the most awesome people in the world, plus Charlie. We had two days of class canceled this week due to wintry weather, so I was definitely down with that and enjoyed the extra sleep immensely. My intramural basketball team won our first game on Thursday, though I am currently sidelined due to my slowly-improving knee. And I am very, very excited about the Steelers playing in the Super Bowl on Sunday, and I am anxious to whip out my Hines Ward jersey and Terrible Towel for the event. So now we should all be caught up to date.

I've been reading through the gospel of Mark. My freshman year of high school, Mark was part of the text for Bible Bowl, so it's something I have read a whole lot. Because of this, it tends to be something that I skim over because I feel like I've already heard it all a million times. Thus, over the past several weeks I've been trying to really dig deeper into the book and to pull out something fresh and new to me, and it has been very beneficial and I have learned a lot about Jesus and the life he calls us to. A while ago, I came across a couple passages that really stood out to me, so I thought I'd share some of the things that really hit me.

Mark 4-6 portrays the classic Jesus that most of us probably envision from stories told in our little-kid Sunday School classes in the day. In this section of Mark's gospel, Jesus is traveling around performing miracles and telling parables. When I was reading this, the theme of Jesus' lordship was especially highlighted. Jesus is shown to be the lord of all sorts of things: storms, demons, bread and fish, sickness, death, and gravity. He's in charge. He's the man. What he says goes. All things are under Jesus' control, and he lords over them with authority.

This is also a time of great popularity for Jesus. Thousands of people are flocking to him to listen to him teach and to have him heal their sick family-members and friends. If Jesus' lordship covers elements of nature and of spirits, it only makes sense that the individual lives of all these people need to be submitted to his lordship as well. If Jesus has control over everything in the world, he is also the rightful lord of a person's life. And yet, in the midst of these chapters in Mark, two instances are given of groups of people who choose to reject Jesus' lordship, desiring rather to have nothing to do with him.

In Mark 5, Jesus goes across the Sea of Galilee to the region of the Gerasenes. There, he encounters a demon-possessed man, and he orders the demons to leave the man and sends them into a nearby herd of pigs. The herd of 2000 crazed pigs then rushes down the hill into the lake, and they all drown. Obviously, the guys watching over the pigs are a little alarmed by this, so they run off and tell the people of the town. When the people get to Jesus and see the man who had been possessed acting like a normal person, they beg Jesus to leave the area.

This doesn't make sense. During this period, pretty much everyone is doing everything they can to get to Jesus. But the Gerasenes want none of that. Instead, they ask him to depart. Why? I think they were a little upset about the 2000 pig carcasses floating in the lake. The Gerasenes were not Jews, so they ate pork. And they had just seen all their bacon rush off to a watery demise. This was a tremendous economic loss. What this shows is that when Jesus comes to town, changes are made. He changes the life of the demoniac by healing him. And he changes the lives of the Gerasenes by causing their commodity to drown. And they're not digging that. So they ask him to leave. They reject his lordship. They're upset about what Jesus did. These people would rather live with a demon that let Jesus have control.

And I wonder how often we have the same attitude. When we hand our lives over to Jesus' lordship, he promises to make changes in our lives, and this may mean stripping away some of the things we hold dear. It might be money or status or friends or sins. And we refuse to give it up. We refuse to submit everything to Christ's lordship. We keep everything in close, living with our demons instead of handing it all over to God.

Then there's the second group from this portion of Mark that says "No thanks" to Jesus. In Mark 6, Jesus goes to his own hometown of Nazareth and teaches in the synagogue. After this, the Nazarenes comment on Jesus' origin, basically saying something along the lines of "Who does this guy think he is?" After all, they know where he comes from, who his parents are, and who his siblings are. How can Jesus be so assuming to come into his home synagogue and preach to the people about what they need to do in their lives? And Mark writes, "And they took offense at him" (6:3). In reply, Jesus gives the famous line that a prophet is not accepted in his hometown.

For a long time in reading this story, I identified myself with Jesus. As a person going into ministry, I figured that his words about a prophet not being accepted in his hometown applied to me. In ministry, I will probably not be as effective if I don't leave my nest. But now, I wonder if I identify more closely with the people of Nazareth. The reason that they reject Jesus and his lordship is because they are so familiar with him. They know his roots. They know everything about him. And so, when Jesus comes preaching a life-altering message, they basically ignore what he says.

Ever since I was born, I have been saturated with Christianity. I have been in church almost every Sunday of my life. I've read most of the Bible multiple times. I go to class 16 hours a week learning about Jesus. Thanks to all of this, it is easy for me to feel overly familiar with Jesus. It's like I know all there is to know. There's nothing new. Nothing grabs me. I often think of Jesus as my life-long buddy and forget that he is the Lord that makes some pretty incredible demands of my life. I withhold my life from him and reject his control because, like the Nazarenes, I'm too familiar with him. Been there, done that. I lose the awe and wonder of who God is and what he has done and what he wants to do in the world and through me.

None of this is good, but they're things that I think a lot of Christians deal with. Have we truly made Christ our Lord? Or are we holding on to parts of our life, not willing to let him deal with them? Are has Jesus become so commonplace for us that we no longer recognize what following him requires? Are we going to be content being a Gerasene or a Nazarene? Or are we going to chase after Jesus with everything we have, offering him our lives and allowing him to make us new from the inside out?

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