I want to tell you a story from the bible about Jesus’ love for a person
who didn’t belong. Here’s what we know about him –
All his life, he’d been an outsider. He never fit in at school. He never had any friends. People made fun of him, because he was different; some believed that there was something wrong with him. He never made sense to his family, and most of the time, he didn’t make sense to himself either. He would yell at people on the street for no apparent reason. He couldn’t control himself and he did bad things without really wanting to.
When he grew up, he lived at the outskirts of town. Every so often, he wandered into town, muttering to himself and looking angrily and anxiously at everyone he met, fearful of how the town folk would respond.
One day, he stumbled by the synagogue and got the usual dirty looks from people coming to worship. The religious people avoided him, fearing contamination, worried that his illness might be contagious. Just speaking to him might threaten their spiritual well-being.
Shambling by the synagogue, he heard the preacher. The preacher seemed different than others he’d heard: The preacher was strong, and fiery but he also radiated compassion. The fire wasn’t anger, but the passion of love and the passion that confronts injustice wherever it occurs. The preacher was finishing his message, when he looked out the door at the strange onlooker.
Their eyes met, and the man could not move, but his voice spoke – a voice he couldn’t control and didn’t understand. The voice of hate and fear, and anxiety that it might lose its control over the beleaguered man. “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”
The spirit that controlled the man knew who the preacher was – and knew its days were numbered and that the preacher was God’s Holy One, before whom all creation bows and all illness finds relief.
Then, the preacher spoke. For the first time, the man heard a voice of courage and calm. The teacher, Jesus, was not afraid of him; he felt love and acceptance. “Be silent! Come out of him,” the preacher sternly spoke.
Deep down in the hidden recesses of his spirit, the man remembered the words of a Psalm, “be still and know that I am God.”
Deep down in the place where sighs too deep for words come forth, he heard God’s word, “You are whole. You are loved. You are free.” The man saw himself for the first time, whole, good, and loved, and he knew he was Home, yes, Home, for good.
Mother Teresa once described her mission as seeing God in all of God’s distressing disguises. God is hidden in everyone. Like the geode with the rough exterior, each of us hides something of beauty that no one but God can see, until God – or someone speaking for God – brings it forth through loving and generous hospitality; when someone knows our true name and who we really are, disguised beneath the rough exterior, the smell of our clothing, our race, gender, or ethnicity; when someone sees and welcomes us and reminds us, perhaps for the first time, of the light of the World shining in us.
This passage is, at first glance, about the healing of demon possession. To the author of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ casting out of demons is key to his identity as the Messiah. But, we don’t need to get hung up on demons or even the mechanics of this healing. Jesus saw the man’s predicament, reached out in love, and healed him. Whatever the nature of the disease or the healing, the man was never the same again – he belonged and he was whole.
This passage is about what happens when someone’s love enables us to find our true and hidden identity as God’s child. The story of Jesus and the man who was healed of an unhealthy spirit is about all of us and about our world. There are countless people shunned and nameless in our world and we are often overwhelmed when we see their need. We are confused when we see the odd behaviors of those who are vulnerable and forgotten – we become anxious when confronted by a veteran dealing with addiction, a street person talking to himself, or a homeless person whose needs outstrip our perceived ability to help. Sometimes we feel like turning away or going to the other side of the road; but we need to remember that we can always do something –
- First, we can make space to welcome them in our hearts, pray for guidance, and then respond as best we are able, fallibly and lovingly.
- Second, we can be a church where we expand our comfort zones by welcoming those who might be unwelcomed in other settings. We need to be prepared to open our hearts, heads, and hands to humanity in all its wondrous, and often troubled, diversity.
- Finally, we need to let our hospitality go beyond our sanctuary to the highways and byways of our community.
Hospitality is key to our congregation’s vision. We can’t control who will show up, but we can choose to care; we can choose to see our common identity as God’s children; and we can choose to provide a safe and welcoming place, regardless of place of origin, health condition, social status, or citizenship.
That day, Jesus saw a man’s true identity and invited him to see himself as God’s sees him. That’s our call – to be the eyes, the ears, the hearts, the hands of Jesus; to heal the sick and welcome the lost, and be a part of God’s realm of love.