Sunday, March 27, 2011

Devotional for the Third Sunday of Lent, the Nineteenth Day of Lent

“Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed. (Mark 5:19-20)

Say among the nations, “The Lord is king!
The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved.
He will judge the peoples with equity.” Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it.
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with his truth. (Psalm 96:10-13)

Justice is an important idea in the Bible. In our world, justice can sometimes be translated as fairness, punishment, or revenge. But in the Bible, justice comes from God and is, at its heart, the work of putting right that which is wrong; of bringing restoration to that which is broken; of healing that which is sick. That’s why you read so much in the Bible about God’s concern for the poor and the disenfranchised.

The text in Mark 5 comes at the end of the story of Jesus healing a man who was infested with demons. The guy was a wreck—naked, filthy, living among the tombs, terrorized by his demonic parasites, and a horror to the local villagers. When Jesus cast out the demons, the man was transformed. Someone in Jesus’ group must have given up items of their clothing, because the man is described as being “clothed and in his right mind.” The local townspeople are a little distressed because the demons inserted themselves into a herd of pigs (this was obviously not a Jewish neighborhood) and ran them off a cliff. When Jesus starts to leave the region, the man begs to come with him, but Jesus refuses. Instead, Jesus sends him home to his family and his village to declare what the Lord had done for him.

In this story, we see Jesus enacting God’s justice. Everything about the demon-possessed man was broken. Jesus cast out the demons, someone found him some clothes, and then cleaned him up. Jesus, rather than letting the man come away with him, sent him home to declare what the Lord had done. But in doing that, more that had been broken would be restored. The man would be reconciled to his family and friends, he would engage in the productive life of his village, and be resocialized into the land of the living. He would become human again.

The psalmist declares that, when God brings his justice, the whole of creation will rejoice. When God’s justice comes, it is enacted with righteousness and truth, countering the dominance of all that is destructive, oppressive, and false.

God’s justice will, however, often run cross-grain to the dominance of the world culture. Just as the people in Mark 5 couldn’t appreciate the restoration of the broken man because of the loss of the herd of pigs, sometimes the enactment of God’s justice is obscured by other dominant cultural values. That’s just the way it goes, it seems.

But it doesn’t have to be that way for us.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Mike. Just read this as I've been studying Mark with the men and women in our recovery program. I like the thought of restoration that comes from him goin to tell others. The big question in Mark we keep landing on is why are there so many other instances where he tells people to keep things quiet. He obviously wouldnt want to deprive people of restoration so there's likely something elso going on (Messianic secret?). Your thoughts?

Mike McNichols said...

That's a good question. Maybe it's about timing. Jesus sends the demoniac back home to become a real human being again and to share his story with his non-Jewish friends. In the other cases, he tells the Jewish people he helps to remain silent. Perhaps the Jews, with their hope for a Messiah, might try to press him in directions he does not want to go. Just a thought.