BIDDING CHRIST BE GONE
The men who were feeding the pigs fled, and brought news of what had happened to the town and to the farms. They came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus, and they saw the demon-possessed man–the man who had had the legion of demons–sitting fully clothed and in his senses, and they were afraid; and those who had seen what had taken place told them what had happened to the demon-possessed man, and told them about the pigs; and they began to urge Jesus to get out of their territory.
Very naturally the men who had been in charge of the pigs went to the town and to the farms with news of this astounding happening. When the curious people arrived on the spot they found the man who had once been so mad sitting fully clothed and in full possession of his faculties. The wild and naked madman had become a sane and sensible citizen. And then comes the surprise, the paradox, the thing that no one would really expect. One would have thought that they would have regarded the whole matter with joy; but they regarded it with terror. And one would have thought that they would have urged Jesus to stay with them and exercise still further his amazing power; but they urged him to get out of their district as quickly as possible. Why? A man had been healed but their pigs had been destroyed, and therefore they wanted no more of this. The routine of life had been unsettled, and they wanted the disturbing element removed as quickly as possible.
A frequent battle-cry of the human mind is, “Please don’t disturb me.” On the whole, the one thing people want is to be let alone.
(i) Instinctively people say, “Don’t disturb my comfort.” If someone came to us and said, “I can give you a world that will be better for the mass of people in general, but it will mean that your comfort will, at least for a time, be disturbed and upset, and you will have to do with less for the sake of others,” most of us would say, “I would much rather that you would leave things as they are.” In point of fact that is almost precisely the situation through which we are living in the present social revolution. We are living through a time of redistribution, not only in this country but in the developing nations as well. We are living through a time when life is a great deal better than ever it was for a great many. But it has meant that life is not so comfortable as it was for quite a number of people; and for that very reason there is resentment because some of the comforts of life have gone.
There is a great deal of talk about what life owes us. Life owes us precisely nothing; the debt is all the other way round. It is we who owe life all that we have to give. We are followers of one who gave up the glory of heaven for the narrowness of earth, who gave up the joy of God for the pain of the Cross. It is human not to want to have our comfort disturbed; it is divine to be willing to be disturbed that others may have more.
(ii) Instinctively people say, “Don’t disturb my possessions.” Here is another aspect of the same thing. No man really willingly gives up anything he may possess. The older we get the more we want to clutch it to us. Borrow, who knew the gipsies, tells us that it is the fortune-telling gipsy’s policy to promise to the young various pleasures, and to foretell to the old riches and only riches “for they have sufficient knowledge of the human heart to be aware that avarice is the last passion that becomes extinct within.” We can soon see whether a man really accepts his faith and whether he really believes in his principles, by seeing if he is willing to become poorer for them.
(iii) Instinctively people say, “Don’t disturb my religion.”
(a) People say, “Don’t let unpleasant subjects disturb the pleasant decorum of my religion.” Edmund Gosse points out a curious omission in the sermons of the famous divine, Jeremy Taylor. “These sermons are amongst the most able and profound in the English language, but they hardly ever mention the poor, hardly ever refer to their sorrows, and show practically no interest in their state. The sermons were preached in South Wales where poverty abounded. The cry of the poor and the hungry, the ill-clothed and the needy ceaselessly ascended up to heaven, and called out for pity and redress, but this eloquent divine never seemed to hear it, he lived and wrote and preached surrounded by the suffering and the needy, and yet remained scarcely conscious of their existence.”
It is much less disturbing to preach about the niceties of theological beliefs and doctrines than it is to preach about the needs of men and the abuses of life. We have actually known of congregations who informed ministers that it was a condition of their call that they would not preach on certain subjects. It was a notable thing that it was not what Jesus said about God that got him into trouble; it was what he said about man and about the needs of man that disturbed the orthodox of his day.
(b) People have been known to say, “Don’t let personal relationships disturb my religion.” James Burns quotes an amazing thing in this connection from the life of Angela di Foligras, the famous Italian mystic. She had the gift of completely withdrawing herself from this world, and of returning from her trances with tales of ineffably sweet communion with God. It was she herself who said: “In that time, and by God’s. will, there died my mother, who was a great hindrance unto me in following the way of God; my husband died likewise, and in a short time there died all my children. And because I had commenced to follow the aforesaid way, and had prayed God that he would rid me of them, I had great consolation of their deaths, albeit I did also feel some grief.” Her family was a trouble to her religion.
There is a type of religion which is fonder of committees than it is of housework, which is more set on quiet times than it is on human service. It prides itself on serving the Church and spending itself in devotion–but in God’s eyes it has got things the wrong way round.
(c) People say, “Don’t disturb my beliefs.” There is a type of religion which says, “What was good enough for my fathers is good enough for me.” There are people who do not want to know anything new, for they know that if they did they might have to go through the mental sweat of rethinking things and coming to new conclusions. There is a cowardice of thought and a lethargy of mind and a sleep of the soul which are terrible things.
The Gerasenes banished the disturbing Christ–and still men seek to do the same.
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