The very last verse of Matthew 8 says, “And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.” (Matthew 8:34)
What does it take to beg Jesus to leave?
Jesus had just calmed a great storm. His disciples were with him. They were seasoned fishermen and had seen many storms in their day, but this one threatened to drown them all. Jesus was sleeping on the boat because he was tired. His disciples went and woke him: “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” (8:25) He told them they had little faith, and then, “He rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.” (8:26) The disciples were stunned. They weren’t sure if this was even a man or not. They asked what sort of man could do this? They were early on their journey of discovering just what sort of man Jesus was and is.
When they landed on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, two demon-possessed men came out of the tombs and started confronting Jesus. They didn’t want him around to torment them, so they quickly asked to be transferred into a herd of pigs fairly nearby. Jesus lets them go, and when the demons enter the pigs, they go into a frenzy, rush down the bank of the sea and drown in the water. The herdsmen take off to the city to tell everyone about what had just happened from their perspective which was limited at best though the did know about Jesus healing the men. Jesus’ healing of the men meant their pigs were dead for them. That’s when all the city comes out and begs Jesus to leave.
I want people to like Jesus. Many say they do. Many who aren’t Christians or don’t come to church will tell me that don’t have any problems with Jesus. They can’t stand his followers. They love Christ but hate Christians.
I take this to heart. After all, how am I able to discern if that is true or not? I try to take that assertion at face value. I then work hard to present a less offensive Christianity, a less problematic church. This is a good and worthy endeavor. The church can be needlessly, overly and easily offended. We can be proud pietists. We can be judgmental fundamentalists.
However, the church has also done tremendous good in the world, and it continues to do so. The church has often championed the outcasts and marginalized. The church has loved the poor. The church has loved women and children. The church has been for the unborn. The church has built hospitals, universities and science labs. The church has given away things it could have kept for its own. It has not done these perfectly, and we deserve much of the guilt and shame we have. We repent of those things, and look for love, forgiveness and all things made new. We press on.
I often feel rebuffed when I bring up Jesus, which happens directly and indirectly often since I’m a pastor. People don’t want to talk about it. They’re over it. They’re bothered by it. It’s too cliche. It’s too American religiosity. It’s too much hurt.
It’s not always. There are times when someone is interested. Then want to hear about Jesus and the church. Those are amazing times.
But often I get a polite head nod and glazed eyes and a change in subject. I think what Jesus is doing is beautiful and believable, but they think he needs to leave the region. They think of dead pigs. They think of a ruined economy. They think what in the world is he going to wreck next?
The city of Gadarenes didn’t hate Christians. They hated the Christ himself. They asked him to hit the road and move it on. They judged him. They cast him out. They didn’t want anything he had to offer, though they didn’t even know what it was.
One of my favorite hymns is Give Reviving, the title of which suggests new life, a thriving, a revitalizing, healing work of God. We ask God for this new life miracle, and thank him for what he’s given. At the end of the song, we sing,
“Give reviving, give refreshing, give the looked-for Jubilee.
To Thyself may crowds be pressing, bringing glory unto Thee.”
Matthew 8 ends with a big downer. People ask Jesus to leave. They don’t like and don’t want God’s redemptive work or miracles. They don’t want to hear about the kingdom of God and grace.
May we have the opposite prayer. May Jesus attract a big crowd of expectant people who want his glory all the more. Give reviving, Lord. Give refreshing. Set things right again! May he work in our lives and in our city all the more. May we be transformed and revived to be the best people and best city in all our flourishing.