READ : Mark 5:19-20
But he refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and all men marveled.
Mark 5:19-20 rsv
HUMAN LIFE DEVALUED
Does it trouble you, as it troubles me, that human life seems to be more and more devalued in our time? Whatever your point of view on the abortion question, does it ever bother you that simply for convenience, one tiny life after another is snuffed out before it has a chance to be born? Does it concern you that little children, once born, are neglected, abused, or simply abandoned as though they were little more than trash?
And what about the senseless violence, the drive-by shootings, the cold-blooded murders committed over a slight or a gesture misinterpreted? Thousands of people are slaughtered day after day in our world simply because they belong to the wrong ethnic group. Members of a hated tribe, they are considered unfit to live.
Does the increase in suicides among the young weigh upon your spirit? And does it bother you that it’s becoming more and more acceptable to assist someone in taking his or her life? Can we be very far from a time where society will decide for its citizens just how long they will be allowed to live? If you’re not yet born or if you’re aged and ill or if you simply happen to be in the way, your life doesn’t count for much, does it? Not in the eyes of growing numbers of people, at least. When life is cheap, taking it becomes a trifle. What kind of society are we becoming? If this kind of thing doesn’t trouble our consciences, break our hearts, God help us.
THE LORD’S PERSPECTIVE
And that’s what He does in the gospel of His Son. He helps us immeasurably. Among many other things, the good news of Jesus Christ brings us a refreshingly different way of looking at human life. Listen to this account from the fifth chapter of the Gospel according to Mark, noting especially the attitude of Jesus toward one demented, driven man. Here’s the story:
They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when he [that is, Jesus] had come out of the boat, there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who lived among the tombs; and no one could bind him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been bound with fetters and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the fetters he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out, and bruising himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped him; and crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” And he begged him eagerly not to send them out of the country. Now a great herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside; and they begged him, “Send us to the swine, let us enter them.” So he gave them leave. 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 (vv. 1-13).
Now if any man could ever be considered expendable, undesirable, this one certainly qualified. He made no useful contribution to society. In fact, he was in some ways a menace. The citizens of the city nearby had tried many times to subdue him, but he had wrenched apart every chain and broken every fetter. What’s more, he was a madman. Who knew when he might turn that superhuman strength against others? What child could be safe anywhere near a monster like that? He was so crazy that he screamed day and night, bruised himself with stones, wandered on the mountains. He made his dwelling in a graveyard. Many people felt that was where he belonged – permanently.
But Jesus came across the Sea of Galilee at night in a life-threatening storm, apparently to seek this man out. We aren’t told of anything else He did in the country of the Gerasenes. Just this.
When the man saw Jesus from afar, he came bounding down the hillside toward Him. He must have been a terrifying spectacle, hair flying in the wind, chains jangling, face contorted. Perhaps the disciples drew close around their Master, worried, apprehensive lest He be attacked. Now the tormented man is almost upon them. To the amazement of the disciples, he prostrates himself before Jesus. The Lord speaks with measured calm, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit.” Then a loud cry, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.”
Something in this strange figure recognized who Jesus was, feared Him, pleaded with Him. “What is your name?” asked Jesus. “My name is Legion; for we are many.” Apparently a demonic host had possessed the man. The voice came again, “Don’t send us out of the country.” On a nearby hillside, a herd of swine was feeding. “Send us to the swine, let us enter them.” Jesus consented. Moments later, to the astonishment of the onlookers, these two thousand pigs thundered down a steep incline into the water and were drowned.
Friends, I have read this passage and studied it many times, but there are still a number of things about it that I don’t understand. It’s a strange happening, foreign to the experience of most of us. But two things about it seem luminously clear. The first is that Jesus can deliver people from every evil power. If any person was ever demon-possessed, dominated by evil spirits, this man was. But by His bare word, by the putting forth of His will, Jesus released him and sent the host of wickedness on their way. The powers of hell seemed to know themselves helpless before His majesty. Jesus is Lord.
The second truth that comes home to us inescapably from this narrative is how highly Jesus valued the man’s life. Two thousand pigs represented a small fortune to the people of that community. But to Jesus, they were not worth nearly as much as this sufferer. Now as I just admitted, I don’t understand all this. I know that Jesus reveals the heart of a Father who cares about a tiny sparrow fluttering to the earth, who looks on His whole creation as very good. There is nothing in the gospels to indicate that God doesn’t have compassion for all His creatures. But when it comes to relative worth, Jesus says to each one of us: “You are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:31), many pigs. Maybe many stars and galaxies too. That’s God’s perspective.
Jesus’ attitude stands in sharp contrast to the way the Gerasenes looked at all this. Listen. I pick up the story in Mark 5:14.
The herdsmen fled, and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus, and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. And those who had seen it told what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their neighborhood.
These people, of course, knew all about the man who had lived in the tombs. Now they saw the same man sitting quietly in the company of Jesus, fully clothed and completely well. It was an astounding miracle. Had there ever been a more radical transformation than this one? But we sense no joy in them, no thankfulness, only fright. They couldn’t celebrate what had happened because there was this troubling matter of the pigs. The herd had represented a lot of money, a big part of the economy of the region. So instead of welcoming Jesus as a great deliverer, the citizens saw Him as a threat. They begged Him (can you imagine this?) to go away.
Now notice, they didn’t question His saving power. They may have believed that He was the Son of God. But they wanted no part of Him in their territory because their values differed from His. They couldn’t see a crazy man as being worth all this. I wonder sometimes if we can. One messed up life this important, this precious?
Jesus didn’t belabor the lesson. If anything, He played down what He had done. When the man who had been set free was overcome with gratitude and wanted to go along with Jesus, the Lord refused. He said, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (v. 19). Jesus didn’t plan to take him along as Exhibit A of what He could do in the life of a person. He wanted him instead to go back home to the people who had known him before and tell them about God’s mercy. And Jesus didn’t argue with the Gerasenes who wanted Him to leave, didn’t criticize their attitude. He simply got back in the boat and went to the other side.
It was more like Jesus to show compassion than to talk about it. We know how much He prized one human life not so much from what He said as from what He did. His daily dealings with people had their own incomparable eloquence.
But there was more to come. Move now in your thoughts toward the end of His life. From the cross, He does not say to a watching world, “Behold, how much I love you.” He doesn’t admonish, “Don’t you realize that I’m doing this for all of you?” No, but He shows concern for His mother and arranges for her care. He acts as though He’s there only for a penitent thief beside Him who says, “Jesus, remember me.” “Today,” the Lord promises, “you will be with me in Paradise.” And then there is that prayer of His, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He lived out His concern, right to the end. Beholding Him, we sense faith rising in our hearts. We say, “There, that’s how much God loves people. That’s how much He loves me. That’s how far His love is willing to go on our behalf. That’s how much He prizes us.” Then we find it in our hearts to sing, “O how He loves you and me! O how He loves you and me! He gave Himself. What more could He give? O how He loves you and me!” His living and His dying told it all.
But before His life ended, He had made it clear how His followers were to value persons. When He told about the shepherd who left the ninety-nine sheep in the fold to risk everything in going out after one stray, the story was not really about sheep but about lost men and women. He let us know that to cause one little one to stumble is a tragic crime and to give to one such even a cup of cold water is a priceless gift. In the hungry and the thirsty, the naked and the sick, the strangers and the prisoners, Jesus wanted His followers to recognize Him and minister to Him. To care about the least and the lowest would be their greatest service. “Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these, my brethren, you have done it to me” (Matt. 25:40 kjv).
For us too, the final test will be not words but deeds. Our lives will demonstrate how much we value those made in God’s image, those precious in His sight, those for whom Jesus died. Maybe you don’t like those who protest against abortions. You object to their tactics. You resent their rhetoric. Well, I join you in deploring any violence done by such people or any hatred they may display toward those with whom they differ. But when they simply gather to pray and to plead on behalf of the unborn, something in me resonates with that. Something about that is right, right because it points to God’s concern for every tiny human life.
A man once criticized Dwight L. Moody for his evangelistic methods. Moody listened, then asked how this objector went about doing evangelism. The man stammered, finally admitting that he did not engage in it himself. Moody’s reply, “I think I like the way I do it better than the way you don’t do it.” Maybe you have a better way to speak out in defense of human life. Maybe you have a wiser way to protest when persons are devalued. If so, by all means go to it. God bless you. But let’s say it in more than words. Let’s demonstrate the truth revealed in Jesus: every human life is precious. Every person is to be prized.