How They Beg (Day 16 of A Simple Lent)
After the craziness in the boat, in which the disciples forget rule #1 of discipleship: do what your rabbi does, we hit land and they find themselves in a graveyard with a crazy man.
I’m not sure why I love this story, but I do. Maybe you like it too. It is vivid and detailed. We learn about the chains and how they can’t contain the man filled with unclean spirits. Which always makes me wonder why they feel the need to tie this naked, crazy man down. Why do they need to imprison him here, in the tombs, when he seems to be in a kind of prison already?
It reminds me of how we, all over the country, closed down our hospitals for the mentally ill in the 1990s, putting people who need help into the criminal justice system. Instead of treating, we prosecute. Poorly trained police are left shackling the mentally ill when professionals could help them overcome their episodes of violence or confusion or splits with reality.
I’m only reminded of it. But mostly, I think these stories have more power for us when we choose to not explain away the uncomfortable parts. Here, let the demons be demons.
What’s In a Name?
Isn’t it curious that when Jesus goes up to this naked man he asks his name? Or perhaps their name(s)? Is he asking the man or the spirits? He doesn’t go straight for curing (though he tells them to get out); he goes to relationship-building.
One of the fascinating things about this gospel we call Mark is that throughout it the spirits all recognize Jesus and know who he really is. They know his power and Jesus is constantly silencing them so that they don’t speak of his true identity. This one, Legion, is no exception. He knows Jesus.
And rather than see this as good vs. bad and Jesus is the hero and the spirits are the villains, hear what Jesus is asking. He’s asking for a name. And they are begging for mercy. Not that they are to be spared, but so that they might die. Send us into those pigs [who will run off the cliff and drown].
And the Man
And the Man is freed of this prison and given clothes and invited to be reintroduced into society. But the people won’t have him. Or more precisely, they won’t have Jesus. So they beg him to leave.
In the gospel of Matthew, everybody loves Jesus. Everybody brings countless people to Jesus to be healed and cured, but here, in this story in Mark, these people are scared of him. Just as the disciples were scared of him. They want him gone. So they beg. Go away!
The man, clothed, sane, restored, begs Jesus to let him go with him. As if to say I know who you are! Like the spirits, the one who really gets Jesus. And he says no to the man. Stay. Preach. Share the restoration GOD has given you.
Jesus, who silences the spirits and tells the cured and the disciples to tell no one. That Jesus tells this man to tell everyone.
You the Man
Every time someone tells me the parameters of Jesus’s life and identity; what he cares about and how he acts, I laugh. Mostly because Jesus breaks his own rules. Tell nobody. But you, tell everybody. It isn’t consistent in an abstract way. And certainly not consistent in a compartmentalized way.
The vision of Jesus I get here transcends the stories and the rules. This Jesus who tells people not to say anything is telling people who don’t know the whole story or who will spoil the story to not tell half of a story.
So what if this man is particularly the one who won’t? What if he is the man who actually gets Jesus already and doesn’t need to be shut up or spend the next year following him all over the countryside? What if Jesus is saying “You the man already!”
Most of us, who have spent most of our lives in church and have read our scriptures and have heard hundreds of sermons and taken classes and committed our lives to church still feel like we can’t speak for Jesus. We still feel like we can’t speak to what Jesus has done for us. How Jesus has restored us to life.
And I am eternally surprised at how often people with no church background are able to speak to restoration and hope with such ease and grace.
Imagine, if you will, that the story ends here and you are standing there [or sitting at your desk] and begging Jesus take me with you! and he says
Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.
How might your story amaze the people? How might you be the one called to proclaim the good news? How have you been restored – or are being restored?
Daily Office Readings
Or visit the alternative Daily Office I often use.
This week’s homework is to silence the distractions.
Download the worksheet: A Simple Lent-Handout 2!