Generous to Demons

Jesus is so kind, he’ll even say yes to demons if he’s able.

In a scene that could have been cut from The Walking Dead, two demon-possessed men roamed the graveyard, frothing at the mouth and ravaging any poor soul that attempted to visit the tombs. Jesus approached, and the demons went to talking, nervously. The demons apparently knew their gig was up, and they didn’t let Jesus get a word in edgewise. Apparently, they knew that the minute Jesus spoke, it was lights out. So the demons belted out a request. If you’re going to drop the hammer, would you send us into the herd of pigs scavenging the hillside?

Now I could think of a hundred better options than escape via swine, but perhaps when you’re flustered and time’s ticking, you just say the first thing that pops into your mind. I wonder if later, when they regrouped and were licking their wounds, if one demon slapped the other on the head and said, “Seriously? Pigs?”

At any rate, Jesus didn’t hesitate. “Yes. Go.” Into the pigs they went, as they’d asked. My hunch is that his doesn’t happen often, but on this occasion, Jesus answered the prayer of a demon. I wonder if there was a moment, after the herd of pigs went raving mad and hurled themselves off the cliff, that Jesus lamented the sad affair. “I only wish you’d asked for more. I only wish you’d asked for love.”

God’s impulse is yes. Like a doting Father who hates to say no, God will do a yes at every possible opportunity.

Big and Little

Naaman was a ‘great man,’ says the book of Kings. The word great can literally mean big. Naaman, we are told, was a Big Man. He commanded iron-fierce armies and led overwhelming military campaigns, the sort that build empires and fill both lore and legend. Naaman owned vast estates and held the confidence of royals. When Naaman snapped, people rushed into motion.

Our world is filled with big people, or at least filled with people striving for this prize. Many of us aim to live big lives and build big buildings and write big books and, God help us, build big churches. Something’s quite good about the desire to make a mark, to do our best and live a life that matters. This quest for bigness, though, is a cancer. An inflated ego eats away at all the good, all the simplicity, all the humanness of our efforts.

Naaman was a big man used to being in command, but he could not control the leprosy ravaging his body. Eaten up with the disease, this big man’s options were running out, his life was running out. But the Scripture says that a young slave girl, a girl Naaman had ripped from family and home during one of his military campaigns, had compassion and told Naaman that there was a prophet in Israel who could heal him. We’re given a stark contrast here. The word translated young can literally mean little. There’s Big Naaman and then there’s the little girl.

After long travels and a humorous confrontation with Israel’s king, Naaman lands at the prophet Elisha’s doorstep. Only Elisha does not greet the Big Man, Elisha only sends his servant with the message for Naaman to dunk seven times in the Jordan River in order to be healed. Big Naaman was not used to such cavalier treatment. Naaman had done what big, powerful people do – he had carried massive wealth, the sort of resources and capital big people leverage, in order to buy what he wanted. Grace, however, cannot be bought. Grace can only be received.

Naaman gathers his entourage and his booty and takes off in a huff, wanting nothing to do with this strange prophet who knows nothing of the ways of power. But compassionate servants appear in the story again, imploring Naaman to reconsider. “If Elisha had asked you to do something difficult, you would not have hesitated,” the servants say. “Then why not something simple?” When the servants speak of something difficult, they use the same word translated great at the beginning of the narrative, the word we’ve understood as big. In other words, Big Naaman wanted to commandeer a Big gesture. Big people feel comfortable when they stay in charge, when their efforts overwhelm the moment and win the day.

But often, it is the quieter people, the ones who might even seem little to us, who often readily see the ways of grace, the ways of love. There are people, thank God, who do not need to fill the room with their persona but are at home in their body and at home with their God – and they have the discernment and courage to say a simple word in the moment when a simple word is needed. I’ve noticed this with Miska, in the ways she prays with others. Miska is very present, but she is not overly visible. Her presence reminds people they are not alone, but her presence opens up people’s view of God, not their view of Miska. I want to be more like this.

Of course, I know that in our anti-institutional, cynical world, being ‘little’ can be merely a new way to engineer being ‘big.’ Perhaps the issue isn’t so much big or little but simply being who God has made us to be, living out of the love that has been given us.

God Comes as Bread

O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread

Last Wednesday was one of my days to be at the University of Virginia, and I parked on the opposite side of Grounds from where I typically park (it’s Grounds here, not campus. We’re persnickety about these things). My return route to my unusual parking spot meant that I walked past the 24 hour Dunkin’ Donuts. In general, Dunkin’ is not an establishment I frequent. On any normal day, I’d stride by without a thought. However, inspiration hit, and I thought I could score dad-of-the-year points by surprising the family with after dinner treats. I popped into the shop and walked out with a bag carrying 2 chocolate covered donuts with sprinkles, 2 blueberry donuts and one reduced fat blueberry muffin.

To review: I parked in a spot I never park on Wednesdays which meant I walked a route I never walk on Wednesdays which meant I strolled past the donut shop that I never enter on a day that I shouldn’t have even been near. Yet there I was holding a bag of donuts that never should have been. Got it?

When I arrived home, I unloaded my gear. As I hung my keys on the hook by the door, I heard Wyatt upstairs talking while Miska prepared dinner. Apparently Wyatt had harangued Miska into letting him tinker with her iphone, and Wyatt was in the middle of a conversation. “Siri,” he said earnestly, “please bring me donuts.”

Can you imagine the shock on his face (and mine) when, seconds later, I walked into the kitchen carrying the bag I was not supposed to have?

I do not care to turn this story hokey by making some appeal to providence. Sometimes, donuts just happen. I will say that I may or may not have grabbed the phone after everyone was in bed and secretively asked Siri for a best-selling novel and for Clemson to win a National Championship.

Dumbfounded by this moment, however, I’ve found myself struck by the gospel reading and the prayer the lectionary offers us this week. John’s gospel reminds us that after his resurrection, Jesus cooked fish over the charcoal fire for his friends. Then, in a reprise of their Last Supper, Jesus broke bread for them and fed them. There are many powerful ways Jesus could have chosen to share himself, and yet, as the prayer says, he chose to reveal himself in the breaking of bread. Jesus gave us bread that nourishes the body and heals the hunger — and this was not bread whole but bread broken.

Then with this broken bread that would sate our ravenous longings, Jesus said, “This is love. Eat and be full.”

I know many people in my sphere who are desperate for love today, desperate to be full, desperate for wholeness and healing. Gandhi said that some people are so hungry that God can only come to them as bread. The good news is that if bread (or love or joy or belonging or hope or friendship – or even donuts, I guess) is what you need, then God in Christ comes to you as exactly that. I pray you will find your bread today, and I pray you will eat to your heart’s and to your belly’s content.