Baby Bison, don't tread on that pretty flower...

Baby Bison, don't tread on that pretty flower...
Custer State Park, SD; June, 2010

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Columbia, TN, United States
I am a Christian, married over 43 years to my gorgeous first wife; in 13th year as professor of education at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, TN; 4 children and 9 grandchildren.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Beyond the Pigs

While listening to Joel Oswalt fill in Sunday for our regular preacher with a topic of the apostle’s impatience as illustrated by the feeding of thousands on two occasions in Mark 6 and 8, I backtracked to the story of the demon-possessed man and the herd of swine described by Jesus in Mark 5:1-20. It struck me that I’d heard numerous sermons and Bible classes that expounded on this narration, but most of them focused on the upset townsfolk or the poorly treated pigs. What caught my mind’s eye for that moment in time were the action verbs used to describe the man suffering with the demon. They truly told the story of his life struggle…and of mine.

When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. (Mark 5:2-5)

This cave-dweller led a remarkably grim life. Notice the actions that were his daily regimen. He tore the chains and broke the irons that bound him. Why was he bound? He was different. He scared the “good” townspeople. They were deathly afraid of him, so a mob would periodically hunt him down and restrain him to ensure the safety of the mothers, sisters, grandmas, and daughters of the village. It didn’t work. He would get loose and roam the hills 24/7 crying out and terrifyingly interrupting their night’s respite. No doubt that was quite an eerie sound. He didn’t enjoy this life; in fact he used cutting as a mode of escape as many distraught and depressed people do today. Rather than a razor blade or knife, he used sharpened stones. Perhaps he found and used those flattened riverside rocks – the type Opie might have used to skip in the old fishin’ hole as he trekked there after school while his sheriff-pa whistled that Andy Griffith theme music. What a life! Fortunately his didn’t end there prematurely.

There came a day when Jesus showed up in this maniac’d neighborhood. Perhaps in his hill-meanderings his daily forage took him to a landfill where he discovered the previous week’s Jerusalem Herald – no doubt discarded after its owner, in whose driveway it had been tossed from a chariot by the carrier on an early morning delivery – finished reading it and sent it out to be recycled. That edition just happened to carry an account of the miracle worker’s imminent arrival by boat in the region of the Gerasenes near the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee. And hence the plot thickens…

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice. “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” (Mark 5:6-7)

I believe this was a very intelligent man before the evil spirit preempted his countenance. He recognized Jesus from a distance and took immediate action. You could make a case for the demon being in control, but I think the real man shone through at that moment. An evil spirit could have been expected to run back to the familiar tombs and hide. Not this guy. He seized his first and perhaps only opportunity. He assumed the posture of reverence and humility before the one whom he loudly identified as the Most High God’s Son. The demon did get a word in edgewise with a last ditch effort to save itself. But the man’s actions prevailed. This is where the herd of swine comes in; but let’s look Beyond the Pigs. (Catchy title don’t you think?)

After the pigs’ follow-the-leader group suicide antics and the subsequent report of catastrophe by the herders, the towns folk swarmed into the countryside to see what was the matter (unintentional “Night Before Christmas” allusion, I assure you). The sight they beheld terrified them more than the demonic ravings of previous months. The hitherto disrobed and ranting lunatic was sitting fully dressed and in his right mind. He even seemed to understand what this visiting prophet Jesus was saying. All they could think of to do was plead with Jesus to leave their region before any more damage was done.

As Jesus was boarding his grounded boat acquiescing to their wishes, the now demon-free tomb inhabitant (surely he didn’t as yet have another address upon which to hang his hat) sought a change of venue:

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “God home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed. (Mark 5:18-20)

Rather then sit and bemoan the fact that Jesus would not allow him to join the group and participate in the next leg of his journey, this guy remembers he has a family. More importantly, he now has a mission that, as it turns out, is the Great Commission. (Sound familiar?) He begins to preach Jesus to 10 cities. I can imagine his contagious enthusiasm, his unquenchable passion, his relentless energy! So let’s recap…

The demoniac becomes a preacher. The herders are in the unemployment line. The towns folk are off the Sominex and getting a good night’s sleep for the first time in who knows how long. The Sea of Galilee has an extreme level of pork-imposed toxicity. A family has been reunited. And, let us not overlook that Jesus…remember what he does next? He lies down in the stern of the boat and goes fast asleep on a pillow. He is so tired that he sleeps through that horrendous squall so violent that waves wash over the boat nearly swamping it. (Did Jesus' part of the boat get drenched?) Alas, Jesus wakens and in an instant doesn’t just fix things, he completely calms the storm.

Never overlook the action steps in some of Jesus best-loved tales. On his way to the peace of Christ that passes all understanding, the demon-possessed man in this story…
· ran to Jesus,
· fell on his feet before Jesus,
· shouted his belief in Jesus,
· begged Jesus to let him accompany him,
· went home to Decapolis, and
· told what Jesus had done for him.

Perhaps we should follow his example. It might be supposed that this man was now fine. I disagree. FINE (Frustrated, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotionally disturbed) is what he was before his close encounter with Jesus. Now he was simply okay. That’s my favorite acronym these days: OK = On Knees or On Knees And Yearning...for healing or maybe for Jesus...

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