Can a sunset be too beautiful—so gorgeous that it hurts to see it? Could a meal be too delicious—so perfect that it disappoints the diner to eat it? When is a gift too generous—so magnanimous that the recipient would rather refuse it?
Sometimes God’s grace is like that—too magnificent, too perfect, too overwhelming for us to accept. In this Sunday's gospel lesson, the Gerasenes, who implore Jesus to leave their community after he performed a powerful exorcism, are an example of that. When confronted by his holy power, they are overcome by fear. When they realize what they are dealing with, their fear intensifies. Unable to embrace the spiritual authority that Jesus represents, they ask him to leave.
The Cursillo movement is active in the Diocese of Alabama. It’s a wonderful, lay-led renewal movement, begun in the Roman Catholic tradition, which invites Christians to spend a weekend hearing about the faith so that they can carry that faith with them even more powerfully when they return to the world. Although I like Cursillo and actively participate in the movement, I recognize that it isn’t for everyone. As one friend put it, “They tell me it will be a ‘life-changing experience,’ but I don’t want my life to change. I like my life just the way it is.” Good point.
Sometimes we like our lives just the way they are. And sometimes we don’t like our lives at all but still would rather hang on to what we’ve got than embrace change. If you’ve ever dealt with an out-of-control addict, you’ve seen this first-hand. You know what she needs to do to get her life in order. She knows what she needs to do to get her life in order. You know that the current path of addiction leads only to death. She knows it, too. Yet it doesn’t matter. Sometimes, almost inexplicably, the human instinct prefers the self-destructive status quo to a life-giving change.
The point is that the presence of Jesus in the Gerasene community necessitates change. The powerful, Kingdom-of-God change agent that is the Christ had sailed into their lives. He had cast the demon out of the community-destroying man whom no one could control. They saw in him the power to change their lives—each and every one of them. And, when the townspeople saw that Jesus held the kind of power that the status quo cannot resist, they asked him to leave.
Change is hard—even good change…even change that every single one of us knows is a good thing. Change is hard. Transformation is costly. None of us can stand in the presence of Christ without being changed—without giving up the life we know and exchanging it for a kingdom-life. But our instincts are to hold on to this lifeless, dark, destructive existence we have known since we were born. Why? Why, when confronted by the light of life, do we so often prefer to crawl back further into ourselves?