have been thinking about it for a while now. Ever since Blockbuster proclaimed, “the end of late fees.” It has nagged at me—a vague inkling that something is not quite right. You see, the problem is, it just rings hollow. The louder they proclaim it, the worse it gets. I am supposed to be overjoyed because they have lifted a burden that they put on me in the first place? It is like a lifeguard drowning you so that he can prove himself a hero in the rescue. I would have rather not been drowned in the first place, thank you. It feels too much like a marketing ploy and not enough like any real benefit if you ask me
This reflecting on Blockbuster has made me wonder—is that how the Good News (the real stuff) appears to those outside the church? “Hey, guess what? You are a sinner, lost, condemned to hell and eternal damnation. But wait, there is good news, because Jesus saves you from all of that!”
Wait a second. Aren’t you drowning me to save me? Isn’t this a bit like “No More Late Fees?” Why shouldn’t people be skeptical? Why shouldn’t they be left with a nagging feeling that something is not quite right?
The nagging feeling kept weighing on me. That was, until I read the story in Mark’s gospel of the Gerasene demoniac, and it all suddenly became clear. Really.
In the story, the demon posessed man he lived among the tombs, breaking shackles and howling until he came to Jesus—literally but also metaphorically. If you’re not familiar with the story of Jesus sending the demons from the man into a heard of pigs who run down a hill and drown themselves in the sea, you really have missed out on one of the all-time most dramatic Sunday school lessons—what child wouldn’t want to hear that one? (For the full experience you might want to see when it’s being covered, and sit in, or read it for yourself in Mark 5.)
Apparently the drama was a bit overwhelming for those in attendance. They asked Jesus to leave town. They were afraid. Can you blame them? Just the noise alone of a screaming crazy man and then the squealing herd of pigs tumbling downhill toward their demise would have been a bit disconcerting.
So, at their request, Jesus got up to leave. The man formerly known as the Gerasene demoniac begged Jesus, "Can I go with you?"
Wouldn’t you? Aside from the fact Jesus just transformed your life in an instant, it might be a bit hard to find work in your hometown, with "howling" and "breaking shackles" on your resume.
Jesus refused. He didn’t give the guy an option. He didn’t say okay, sure, I understand, you might find it hard to stay here. He refused. Flat out.
But that’s not the end of the story. Jesus said more. “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.”
Here’s the thing—the guy did it. He went home (how long had it been since he had been there?) and told his friends.
People (those same people who had been afraid?) were amazed. Of course they were. They knew who he was. They knew how he had been spending his time lately. There was no secret that something was different about this guy. It was that obvious. This was real, live good news, right there in front of them.
And that’s where it came full circle—Blockbuster and the Gerasene demoniac.
As I thought about this story compared with what often passes for evangelism today—a list of dos and don’ts, a recipe for moral living, the importance of a daily quiet time—I began to wonder if we in the church have learned to settle for Blockbuster instead of waiting for the Gerasene demoniac. Are we so busy proclaiming the end of late fees that we forget to proclaim how much Jesus has done for us, and what mercy he has shown us?
Are we more apt to tell people how they can be saved from what may appear to them as a manufactured problem than to proclaim how our own life has been transformed? It is almost as if we have reached for the easiest tool on the evangelism tool belt, and have wound up beating people over the head, leaving them howling instead of healed.
The Gerasene demoniac told people what happened to him—he had his own transformation to prove it. That simple. Pointing out sins? Showing people how they fell short? Telling them about a chasm where they had the misfortune of being on the wrong side? No. He proclaimed what the Lord had done for him and what mercy was shown to him.
So why does our evangelism so often become “No More Late Fees?” Why do we reach for the "let me tell you how I have solved your problem that I created for you in the first place" technique? Why not proclaim how much the Lord has done for us and what mercy we have been shown?
Are we not as sure of that? Is it easier to settle for the chasm, than to wait for transformation? What if the Gerasene demoniac had not waited around for Jesus? What if he had left the tombs to "evangelize" the neighborhood? Naked, broken shackles hanging from his wrists, proclaiming the good news throughout the local housing tract …
The neighbors would have thought he was a crazy man wandering around.He needs to be locked up, not listened to. They would have been justified in dismissing his ranting. Luckily for them and luckily for him, he waited. He waited for the transformation that only Jesus could bring. His life undeniably changed, transformed; of course he would want to share that experience with his friends. And everyone was amazed.