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People of praise

Health care valued in Gospels

Ihssen

The story of the healing of a demon-possessed man from the gentile region of Gadarenes is found in three of the four Gospels of the New Testament: Mark 5:1-17, Luke 8:26-37 and Matthew 8:28-34.

If a story is told three times, God wants us to pay particular attention to it.

We 21st-century scientific people don’t put too much stock in demons, but interestingly enough, Jesus was aware of them, and they were aware of Jesus.

The demon-struck man was miserable, in spite of the fact that he had superhuman strength. He realized that he could not control his great power and was a threat to others. When the town’s people chained him, he easily broke the chains. In his saner moments, he must have fled to the wilderness, where Jesus found him and had pity on him. Jesus knew what was wrong with him.

The demons who inhabited his tormented body used his voice to confront Jesus. “What do you want with us, son of God?” They knew their enemy and his superior power over them; therefore, they pleaded with Jesus to spare them because they knew he had compassion on this poor man.

“Send us into that herd of pigs,” they begged, thinking they could survive in living beings. Jesus gave them their wish, but the pigs went crazy and destroyed themselves, supposedly making the demons homeless or confining them so that they could do no more damage.

The human reaction to this miracle was very interesting. You would think that most people would be awed and thankful. The healed person was very grateful; and even though he was a gentile, he wanted to go with Jesus and become his disciple. Jesus gave him a different role – to go home and tell his family and friends about the one who had cured him.

Obviously, Jesus’ disciples were impressed. Otherwise, this story would not have been included in three of the Gospels. But there was a different reaction among the townspeople when the shepherds of the herd related the incident to them. They came out to view this miracle and found the man sane, but their herd of pigs destroyed.

This was their income from their gentile customers. Jews were forbidden by God to eat pork. Pigs were declared unclean, but the gentiles had no such restrictions. So this loss was very disturbing to the owners. It removed their profit. They were not happy about the loss of their income, even though one of their brothers had been cured.

Two mindsets were operating here. One was concern and thankfulness over a poor afflicted human, and the other was anger over the loss of income. Who is this Jew who caused this to happen? Who is this person who values the life of one human more valuable than the profit from their pig industry? Is it any wonder that they asked Jesus to leave their territory?

Their values were quite different. Righteousness always makes unrighteousness uncomfortable.

What about our times? Do we put human welfare above economic concerns? Our government has embarked on a new health plan. Many of the objections are economic.

Some businesses and individuals will have to pay more money. We are told that companies will have to scale back their workforces and hire part-time rather than full-time workers so as to not have to pay for their workers’ health care. They’ll have to do this to stay competitive so that our prices will stay low.

There are probably things wrong about the health plan, but are we mainly concerned about the health of our brothers and sisters living among us? Where are our values in this debate?

The majority of Gardarenites just wanted Jesus to leave. They didn’t want to hear about loving your neighbor as yourself. They didn’t want to pray that God’s kingdom would come to their territory.

They didn’t include the demon-cured man in “give us this day our daily bread.” They were more concerned about getting their own bread.

And they certainly didn’t see the need for their repentance or God’s forgiveness. They recognized God’s power but wanted no part of it.

Bill Ihssen is a member of Bethlehem Lutheran Church and a retired English and religion teacher at Concordia Lutheran High School. If you are interested in submitting a column (750 words or less), send it to Terri Richardson, The Journal Gazette, 600 W. Main St., Fort Wayne, IN 46802; fax 461-8893 or email trich@jg.net. Please include your name, religious organization and a phone number. For more information, call 461-8304.

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