I believe we each have a story of God’s mercy in our lives. Our faith story may not be as dramatic as some of those in the Bible, but we’ve each seen God’s hand working in our lives. God wants us talking about this. Jesus sends us to tell others what a difference He makes in our lives.
Throughout the Gospel of Mark the proximity of Jesus’ ministry and demons glares at us. The first of Jesus’ miracles in Mark is an exorcism (1:21-28). When Jesus selects the Twelve (3:14-15) for special training to “send them out to preach and to have authority to drive our demons.” In 3:22 the teachers of the law accuse Jesus himself of being demon possessed and driving out demons by the power of the prince of demons.
In chapter 5 Jesus crosses into Gentile territory. Again, his first miracle among the Gentiles is another exorcism. When Jesus does send the Twelve out in 6:7 he “gave them authority over evil spirits” and in v13 we read that “they drove out many demons“. In 7:24-30 Jesus again enters Gentile territory and drives a demon out of a girl he doesn’t even see.
Then in chapter 9 immediately following his transfiguration Jesus descends the mountain to find the remaining apostles unable to cast out a demon. Jesus expels the demon and explains to the Twelve that “This kind can come out only by prayer.” A few verses later John tells Jesus of someone (not one of the Twelve) also casting out demons in Jesus’ name. Jesus gives this anonymous disciple his approval as someone committed to the mission of the kingdom.
Unlike healings that are often linked to the faith of the individual, none of the specific examples of exorcism involve a request by the possessed person. Twice a parent approaches Jesus on their child’s behalf. Twice Jesus takes the initiative for the possessed person. He shows them mercy when they’re unable to ask for it.
All of that isn’t very important to the point of this post. Of all the exorcisms the story in chapter 5 provides the most detail.
Jesus disembarks from a boat in the middle of the night having calmed a storm that the Twelve thought was going to kill them. Suddenly out of a graveyard a wild man covered in cuts and chains emerges and runs toward them. At this point, I’m pretty sure the Twelve have jumped back in their boat and are again in the middle of the lake.
Jesus talks to the man and tells the evil spirit to come out of him. You can read the rest of the story for yourself. As Jesus climbs back in the boat the former demoniac asks to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your won people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you , and how he has had mercy on you.”
The word that grabs my attention in this story comes at the end of the section. What is the message that Jesus gives this man? Tell people how the Lord has had mercy on you. MERCY. The mission Jesus gives him doesn’t call for repentance, or predict a terrible judgment coming. His mission is to tell his story of God’s mercy in his life. When he tells his story of mercy he prepares the way for Jesus to come later.
In this sense he became a Gentile version of John the Baptizer because in 7:31 Jesus will return to the region and people will seek him out to heal their loved ones.
I believe we each have a story of God’s mercy in our lives. Our faith story may not be as dramatic as this man’s, but we’ve each seen God’s hand working in our lives. This is something God wants us to be talking about. God wants us to tell others what a difference He makes in our lives.
We may not recognise the demon-possessed people in our society as Jesus did, but we have those people who intimidate us. Sometimes we allow fear to prevent us from showing mercy. We see a person that intimidates us, maybe not a demoniac, but how about someone we know is gay? Does the vocal atheist in the workplace make us head for the boat as she approaches? Do we run from the kid in the schoolyard that bullies us, or that guy at church who’s always complaining? In Matthew 5:7 Jesus teaches us, Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Sometimes we become fixated on bringing unbelievers to a point of repentance. Sometimes we want to proclaim fiery judgement on all the moral decay we see around us. But that wasn’t his man’s job and it’s not always ours. Sometimes our job is simply to tell and demonstrate God’s mercy. Sometimes our job is just to plant seeds and allow God to make them grow.
This man didn’t hold a tent meeting with thousands of conversions. He did prepare the way for Jesus.
Do our conversations and lives prepare the way for Jesus? Do we present Jesus in a positive light so that down the road someone might be willing to learn more about him?
Sometimes it’s just about mercy.
And then we need to get back in our boat.