Am 5:14,15,21-24; Ps 50:7-17; Mt 8:28-34
In Psalm 50 we hear the most painful challenge of the LORD to his people. The LORD asks a simple question, “Why do you recite my statutes, and profess my covenant with your mouth, though you hate discipline and cast my words behind you?” This simple question has no simple answer. Indeed, the only answer is, “I don’t know. Why do I do such a thing?” It has been the case from the start; in every generation of believers we have been quick to profess and slow to perform his covenant. Indeed, the New Israel, the church of Jesus Christ, is confronted by the Psalmist’s challenge. Indeed, the LORD testifies against us. He is God; there is no other. The LORD does not rebuke us for our sacrifices; our burnt offerings are before him always. Indeed, he takes no bullock from our house nor goat out of our fold. He takes nothing from us. He gives us everything, even our bullocks and goats. He does not steal our creature comforts and material blessings. Indeed all the animals, beasts beyond counting, all the birds of the air, all the fish of the sea, everything that stirs in the plains belongs to him. If he were hungry, he would not wait for us to be generous—he knows us all too well. Besides, does the LORD Almighty eat the flesh of strong bulls or consume the blood of goats? What kind of a bloodthirsty deity do we worship? The one sacrifice that gives him honor and praise is our obedience and our witness. The very things we are slow to surrender and hesitant to offer. Indeed the Prophet Amos tells us what we do not want to hear, the LORD hates and spurns our splendid liturgy. He wants our hearts, minds, souls and strength; nothing less. Such complete demands frighten us as much as the power of the Lord frightened the whole town of Gadarenes. Indeed, we feel much safer when God stays in his place and lets us stay in our place. We are OK when religion remains in the realm of the subjective and makes no demands on our politics and economics.
The preaching of Amos still rings in our ears and clamors in our hearts. This word of God cuts through the soft and comfortable religion we have created as a comfort zone: “Seek good and not evil, that you may live; then truly will the LORD, the God of hosts, be with you as you claim!” If we let justice prevail at the gate, then those who come to us from afar will not be disregarded or disrespected. Even the unbelievers will marvel at the holiness and justice of those the LORD claims for his own. Then and only then will the LORD have pity on the remnant of Joseph. The little ones who trust the LORD like Joseph who was rejected by his own brothers and found himself in slavery and the object lust from his master’s wife. He was alone and powerless in a foreign land, yet, the LORD rescued him and raised him to the heights of power in Egypt. He became the source of life to the very family that had abandoned him and in his kindness Joseph forgave them completely. He revealed to his brothers the mercy they denied him because he was blessed by the mercy of God in his captivity. This remnant of Joseph can expect the same reward for their faithfulness and trust. Then and only then will they be free to demonstrate the justice of God, even at the gates of their city. Until such a conversion abounds among the remnant of Joseph the LORD hates and spurns their feasts. God takes no pleasure in their solemnities. He refuses their cereal offerings and rejects their stall-fed peace offerings. The LORD will not listen to their noisy songs; their melodies only repulse the LORD. Hypocrisy does not delight the LORD. If we want to worship him in spirit and truth, we must let justice surge like water, and goodness like an unfailing stream. Anything less is nothing less than hypocrisy.
Are we afraid of what will happen when all our demons are cast out? Are we afraid of detachment from all that enslaves us? Are we afraid of the kind of absolute demands that the Lord Jesus makes? Perhaps these fears can help us understand the strange rejection the Lord receives from all the Gadarenes. The two demoniacs so frightened the local community that they did not travel by the road where the savages lived. Out of common sense, everyone avoided the dangers these two possessed men threatened. However, it seems that the demoniacs had more sense than their entire village; they cried out in honest fear, “What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the appointed time?” When the Lord Jesus arrives, this is the appointed time. The fearful demons knew it was the end, and they sought safety among the swine. There is no safe place for evil among those who have an honest encounter with the Lord Jesus. Perhaps that is what the whole town understood. If they allowed Jesus to come among them and announce the arrival of the Kingdom of God, then they too would have to give up all their demons. Often times, we are satisfied with compromise, and we avoid the demands of holiness. Perhaps all our worship does is keep the Lord in his place and far away from where we live the rest of our lives. Perhaps we meet him at the gate of the city of man and beg him to leave our district. Have we no more wisdom than the two demoniacs or even the demons? Have we learned anything from the preaching of the prophets and the fear of those who first encountered the Lord Jesus? How long will we prefer the comforts of our pious lethargy to the liberation of the children of God?