I've always heard this story described as an illustration regarding the power of Jesus over Satan - which is definitely valid and important - but I think there's more here. See, the story ends with the people of the city coming to Jesus and begging him to leave. So let me get this straight. Your town has two men desperately in need of an exorcist who are terrorizing the local cemetery. These two are so fierce that no one will pass by the area. A new guy shows up, performs the exorcism, makes the area safe again, and you promptly tell him to go away? Frankly, the peoples' reaction left me confused. After all, the solution only cost them a herd of pigs, right? I see two possible answers here, and I think the truth is a combination of the two.
First, I think the people were angry at losing their source of income. I'm no expert when it comes to Biblical economics, but losing an entire herd of pigs had to hit a few people in the pocketbook. Second, I think they were scared of the power Jesus had because it was unlike anything they had ever experienced before. And when I think about it from that angle the reaction of the locals makes much more sense. Yes, they had a little problem regarding two insane men and the cemetery, but this was a problem they were used to dealing with. A newcomer who had the power to cast out demons and completely heal the previously affected men - this was a new thing. Who knew what this new guy was truly capable of doing. I mean, he'd already destroyed a herd of pigs. Naturally, he should be asked to leave.
Of course, he'd also cured two men just by speaking a few words. Maybe someone who had the power to cast out demons also had more than enough power to handle the next problem that came along. Maybe, just maybe, Jesus was bigger than poverty or uncertainty. Maybe he had more to offer than simply casting out demons. But the locals missed it because they reacted out of anger and/or fear.
How often do I make the same mistake? How often does God cast my demons into pigs but I miss his power because all I'm able to see is the fact that I'm suddenly missing my pigs? Do I hang on to my comfortable status quo so tightly that I miss the blessings He's trying to give me?
I've been thinking a lot about the phrase "radical Christianity", and I've decided that this term seriously bothers me. (Yes, this an abrupt subject-change, but please stay with me.) Since when has there been any form of Christianity that wasn't radical? Jesus was radical. His disciples were radical. The early church was radical. After all, what kind of modern, enlightened human thinks more about the well-being of others than he does about his own security? How crazy does a man have to be to give up everything dear to him and follow Jesus to the point of persecution, imprisonment, and death?
The term "radical Christianity" seems to be reasonably new. It's a term we use to make ourselves feel better about the people who demonstrate self-sacrifice and complete faith in God in their daily lives. I believe that most of us, myself included, allow our faith to take us only as far as our comfort zone allows. That comfort zone is different for each person. It comes in the form of friendships, bank accounts, busy schedules, and countless other things. And those comfort zones are what cause us to keep the pigs in our lives rather than seeing the blessings God has for us. They prevent us from effectively living our potential through the Holy Spirit.
My word for this year is 'Stewardship'. The more I think about being a steward of God's gifts the more I become convicted that I have to move away from thinking about "radical Christianity" and accept that there's no other form. Christianity is not about following a checklist of do's and don't in the hope that one day I'll be deemed "good enough" to get into heaven. It's not even really about heaven at all. It's about falling head over heels in love with my Creator who loved me so much that he gave his only Son as a sacrifice to cover my insufficiencies. It's about understanding and acting on the fact that, for some inexplicable reason, the Almighty God chooses to know me and love me personally. I don't know specifically what this so-called "radical Christianity" means in my life yet. There are so many things being tossed around in my brain that it can be hard to determine which path to take. But I do know that I - just like everyone else - have a herd of pigs that I've been carefully tending. And it's time to identify those pigs, send them off a cliff, and see what God will do.
"If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this." ~C.S. Lewis