Why can’t we be with Jesus right now?
Today I am preaching at Walker United Reformed Church in Walker, Michigan. My evening sermon will be on Mark 5:1-20, the well-known passage about the man possessed by a legion of demons. As Mark tells the story, Jesus crosses the Sea of Galilee and is immediately accosted by this violent outlaw, the demons pleading with him not to torment them “before it is time.” What an absurd image, if anyone was watching. The government of the community has not been able to contain or control this man, and yet a rugged band of fishermen and tax collectors led by a carpenter brings him to his knees.
The story gets weirder. Jesus agrees to the demands of the demons, both not to torment them, and to send them into a heard of pigs. The result is not so pleasant from the perspective of Jesus’ ministry. When the demons drive the massive herd off a cliff and into a lake the inhabitants of the region beg Jesus to leave. And yet again, Jesus agrees to the demands of those who want nothing to do with him. He prepares to leave. He’s not yet going to force his kingdom in all its power on those who oppose him – whether human beings or demons.
Jesus finally achieves some success when the man he has liberated from the demons asks him if he can join his band of disciples and follow him. At least one person understands what is important, right? And yet for all his agreeableness with those who utterly oppose him, now Jesus seems somewhat less generous. No, you can’t come with me. Go, tell your neighbors what God has done for you.
The story is a powerful metaphor for the Christian life in this age. God seems to give the wicked their way in virtually every respect, and yet he tells us to be patient and willing to suffer. For his part, he seems to leave us to the mercy of the world. Why does it have to be this way?
Part of the point of the story, I think, is to give us a little perspective. Had Jesus come in victory and triumph right away, he would have condemned the man with the demons as well as all the inhabitants of the region. There would have been no salvation for anyone. Instead, we are told, when Jesus returned to that region some time later, large crowds of people came to hear him preach and be healed by him. The witness of the man Jesus had healed had made a difference. The gospel of the kingdom did its work.
Why can’t we be with Jesus right now? There are still many, many people who need to hear the gospel and turn to Christ in faith. There are still many, many people without hope in the world. For those of us who already believe, it might be discouraging to have to wait still longer for the kingdom to come in all its fullness. But when you love the world as God loves it, you think about these things a little bit differently. We’re still here because of love for people who need it. We should demonstrate that in everything that we do.