The Gadarene

Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39

Let me tell you my story.
I was a proud young man , – intent to show my worth to family and village.
I received good training, was married and had children. The synagogue was my second home, and my prayers deep and devout.
But somehow I never met my high ambition. Never achieved what I expected or what was expected of me.

I’ll tell you: some habits are no good and self-pity is one of the worst.
I found myself caught in a deep rut, deeper than you could ever imagine, banging against the sides, unable to turn round, unable to escape a sporadic forward motion, the utter helplessness of seeming to be controlled by something else, being led I knew not where, unable to change direction, hating myself for not caring what I might do. Self-pity consumed me, like an army of hungry ants gnawing away at the inner core of a once proud tree, leaving it hollow.
Frustration and anger and emptiness made me lose my mind. I became dangerous to all around me and was cast out to protect those I loved and those I didn’t even know.

I lived in the tombs, but my world was wilderness, mountains and tombs, tombs and mountains. The chains they bound me with could not withstand my rage. My strength frightened me. In bitterness and guilt I would smash the rocks and tombstones and no man could or even dared to stop me. Over time, the clothes ragged off my body, blown thin by the mountain wind. For up in the clear air it was glorious, – I felt a freedom away from everything, – I would run and jump, skip and laugh out loud with the scant grass and burnt-out bushes as companions, feeling at one with nature, the pure happiness of life as it can be. But it never lasted. I would descend once more down, down the slopes. Bitter contrast. Even the unclean swine were my friends, secretly being fattened on the hidden hillsides for the blackmarket traders. I knew: I felt I knew everything. I did not care. Here was I, free, but trapped more thoroughly than any prison or chain could bind. Often I would slump against a tombstone, worn out yet exhilarated, lonely and looking for danger to end my life, cutting myself with stones out of spite against myself and God, daring Him to kill me.

Then came the day that changed everything. I remember the ferocious storm. The wind and rain blowing, lashing, pushing me along the shore. The rain stung on my naked flesh, and through the squall I could just make out boats on the sea, being tossed like corks. I made the effort to stand still, hand up to my eyes, willing them to sink while yet praying for their safety, dancing with delight at the futility of everything and nothing.

The boat in the front was in the greatest difficulty. I could see fisherman hanging on for their lives, – a few of them were making their way to the prow. One bent down, and I could see someone getting up. Though the winds were fierce, I swear that boat stopped rocking! I rubbed my eyes through the rain. The waves didn’t crash into it, but seemed somehow seemed to move round it as though it wasn’t there! A man stood up, stretched out his arms, and the storm ceased completely.
How I wish you could have been there with me, seen too what I saw. I tell you it was no coincidence. One followed the other. Immediately. Suddenly. Heavy clouds that had covered the sky just rolled back and disappeared. The wild waves that moments before had crashed ‘gainst the shoreline gone, just lapping quietly, tinged white against the khaki-sand and now clear-blue sky. Had I imagined it? My wet skin and dripping hair gave proof of the storm, that was no dream! My eyes and the warm sun spoke of a new horizon. Mountains and tombs, tombs and mountains. Storm or peace. Peace, no storm. What was real?

The boats were landing. He got out with the fisherman all round him. I was sufficiently close to see his features. In a flash of insight I suddenly knew who this man was.

Recognition overtook my consciousness. I knew he would read me! Would lay bare my demon thoughts. I feared the truth, whatever that might be. I ran down towards him, barely a hundred yards, shouting and yelling, the mad man from the tombs in full cry! He might control the storm, but he won’t control me! I didn’t want to be healed, yet I yearned to be free. I wanted to get rid of him, yet I knew he was my master. Even as I ran towards him, I knew that the power he expressed was invincible, but that didn’t stop me.
He called out, addressing the error and not me, calling for the evil spirits to leave me. The power of his command stopped me in my tracks just yards from him and his disciples. I knelt to the ground.
And I felt as though a voice not mine answered back to him:
“What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I beseech thee, torment me not.”
Even as I spoke those words and looked in his eyes, I felt a glorious battle taking place in my thoughts, – all the demons of my past ranged against the simple standard of his unity with God. He asked me my name and again I heard my answer “Legion”, a final throw at him of all the spirits and goblins in my mind, a final attempt to outnumber and challenge his authority. He stayed calm, – what was I compared to the mighty storm! Once more he raised his arm, this time to the storm in my head and not the sky. He extended his hand towards my head, and then towards the herd of swine on the hillside in a throw-away gesture. It was if he was saying “Look and behold! God’s power and goodness are infinite! His is the only power, and the only true power we have is by reflection. His goodness is supreme. Share my understanding and be whole!”
And the storm inside me ceased. Was gone.

The pigs leapt and danced, ran in to each other, squealing, scrabbling madly. The swineherds could not control them. They gathered pace down the slope, sliding, falling, crashing down into the sea. Not one was left.
Not one was left, my friend. All the fears, torments, the self-pity and latent violence, all gone. Not just removed from me to live again, but destroyed. It was as though the whole area around us had not just witnessed the stilling of the tempest but also the absolute destruction of all that was wrong or not under the control of the infinite God. Infinite and exception don’t work.

Jesus was smiling at me.
That’s the real point of my story.
Where the storm was, he saw peace and calm. Where I was, he saw not a mad man, intent on murder and self-mutilation, but God’s child. He smiled because he loved what he saw, and I felt in that smile and in his eyes such power that, like the demons were not me, that power was not him, but came straight from God, was God, and he was God’s mouthpiece.
He saw the truth so clearly it was manifested to all around him, and all around him partook of the same sense of power and might, – he gave us our true sense of dominion as God’s children, – we were all his brothers and sisters, yes, that’s it, my friend, for God is the Father of every one of us, including you and me.I too could love what he saw, what he was seeing.

I remember so clearly what happened next. I stood up, looked at my naked body, – all signs of mutilation had gone. One of his disciples brought me a robe. For the first time in I don’t know how long I was dressed and complete. I was at peace.
Jesus talked with all of us, sharing the gospel, sharing his love of God. He had proved everything of which he spoke. And we just sat listening and enthralled. The utter restlessness of mountains-tombs no more, no longer how I saw myself. He was at one with God, and we were too. And I had found a new ambition, – to have that same mind that was in Jesus, to be at one with God.

Jesus and his disciples got back in their boat and went back whence they came. I watched the sail disappear over the horizon of the peaceful sea, knowing that although they had gone, His God was still here and everywhere. The power that had calmed the storms and tempests was universal and supreme, was not confined to one person or place. I could feel God’s presence remaining with me. I was a new man, God’s man.

Jesus has said to me to spread the good news. And here I am now, back with my family. My fellow villagers didn’t want Jesus to stay. They were, and many still remain, too frightened of what he did. They look at me, and pass by on the other side. But here I stand as God’s witness!

God has restored those years the locust devoured. My storm has gone. I am at peace and free! And with that freedom, the mind of Christ,  I too am healing, spreading the good news. That’s what Truth does.

Joel 2:25, (to first ,) 26
And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten,
And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed.

Phil 2:5
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

II Cor 13:11 Be
Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.

John 8:32
And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

A Withered Hand Restored!

Luke 6: 6-10; 10:1, 2, 9

I was there, witnessed the miracle.
Even now I can scarce believe what my eyes saw,
What I now know.
But it was my best friend who was healed.
And it has changed our lives for ever.
Are you willing to take that risk, listen and believe what happened?

We’d been friends since childhood.
He’d never fussed about his disability, –
His right hand, (why did it have to be his right hand?), severely withered,
Utterly useless.
But it didn’t stop us playing games, running ragged and breathless up and down the hills, laughing and forgetful of any limitations.
Yet there were other times his natural compensation could not cope,
And I’d be there, or his parents, to help.
I loved him for his joy, his lack of self-pity.
I sometimes felt he was more of a man than me.
I’d often wondered why he had been so afflicted.
His life had been blameless, – indeed so much better than mine.
His parents as far as I’d known them had always been good.
Perhaps a distant ancestor had done wrong.
It seemed a harsh thing for him to suffer, – especially as there was no possible release.
There was no way out, no healing, no hope.
What sin must have caused that?
It seemed so unfair.
Why did so many people have to suffer with illness or misfortune?
Living lives of acceptance and managing.
Yet the paradoxical question:
How is it that the sick and disabled often seem so much better than we?

That Sabbath we’d met and entered the synagogue together as usual.
There was a lot more interest and buzz about the place that day.
Jesus of Nazareth had been invited to address us.
We’d both heard about him, – some talk or remark about him being the Messiah or Christ, – but so unlikely, – Nazareth was only a village and that not many miles away, and by what little we had heard he was no more than a carpenter by trade. Still, there must be something about him to have created an interest.
The Pharisees and scribes knew that we would be there, but that day when we arrived there were nudges and knowing looks.
One of them asked us to sit at the front.
We chatted for a bit. A fly tried to settled on my friend’s face. He brushed at it with his withered hand.
I felt compassion for him, – his handsome looks marred by this senseless deformity.

The service began and went through its normal routines.
The time came for anyone to stand and speak.
From the back a man stepped forward.
He had an air of authority that commanded attention,
His seamless white robe somehow a symbol of his natural stature.
This had to be Jesus.
I suddenly realised it didn’t matter what village he came from.
He came from God.
As he took his place his love seemed to shine and when he spoke that same love permeated everything he said. The scriptures became alive, meaningful.
I’d always thought that the kingdom of God was something to come,
Some far off event, powerful, as a result of mighty battles, with a great commander to the fore.
But this kingdom was altogether different, stronger, immediate, grounded in love.
I glanced at my friend.
He too was watching enthralled, – his eyes shining, accepting every word spoken.
They were fine words indeed, – but was that it?
Comforting, but without proof, fine words were all they were.
I suddenly thought what if he did prove them true? How would he? What evidence would I want? How would anyone prove the kingdom of God here and now?

“Rise up and stand forth in the midst.”
In the sudden bewilderment of being brought back into the present I thought for a moment Jesus was talking to me. But no.
My friend levered himself up, and stood alone in front of Jesus.
There was a stillness, an expectancy borne of his undoubted authority.
He turned to the Scribes and Pharisees.
I could see them shifting uncomfortably. It was as though he had read their thoughts and they knew that he knew what they were thinking, and in some way those thoughts would be exposed.
He spoke to them directly:
“I will ask of you one thing”
He paused a second, but that pause seemed to contain a lifetime of moment.
“Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it?”
He looked round each of them in turn, the silence and expectancy deafening.
We all knew what was going to happen.
I looked again at my friend.
“Stretch forth thine hand.”

I said I was a witness.
But how can you own up to seeing the impossible.
He obeyed Christ’s command.
We all watched transfixed.
His arm extended, fingers uncurling, filling out fully formed.
We all looked at one another, knowing it was happening yet still disbelieving.
My friend’s face shone as his hand was restored whole as the other.
He knelt before Jesus, giving thanks amidst his awe and wonder.
Then turned to me and shouted my name.
Leaping forward his hand outstretched to take mine,
Right hand to right hand.
What mixed emotions I had! Joy for my friend, but shamedly half frightened to grasp what may have been only illusion.
His handshake was firm, firmer than mine.
And then I responded truly.
Grip to grip, laughing and praising with him in the midst of the synagogue.
No dream but reality, but dear God how?!

I’d asked for proof, and here it was! The only proof possible!
No wonder the scribes were scowling! Here was true authority! No longer mere words, but the consciousness of God’s kingdom here and now seen in health and completeness. Faced with full health, sickness had become impossible! Health the reality and sickness the dispellable illusion. This was the uncomfortable but wonderful import of what Jesus had been saying and had now proved! Yes, proved! – How else can you explain what had happened! And yes I’ve seen similar things happen so many times since.

Look, let me hold you by the hand in love. Don’t be surprised our lives changed! This was not just a one-off miracle of some prophet, a magician’s trick. It was the coming of the Christ. The recognition of Love, God’s love for you and me, all-embracing. The true “Our Father” of which Jesus spoke and commanded us to pray, lifting our thoughts above human heredity to our true and guiltless origin, that we are even now the sons of the one God. It’s the only explanation I can understand.

Look, I’ve been doing all the talking. Let my friend say it, prove it to you, directly himself. Let him hold you firmly with both his hands. Rejoice with us in the nowness of the kingdom of God. Jesus has sent us, is coming soon to your village, but here’s the real point, – the Christ is already here!

Rise up and see!!

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