An Expensive Gift

I’m sitting in the teacher’s chair in front of a handful of students at a local church’s classroom. I’m teaching how to craft Bible stories, and right now we’re working on the story of the Demon Possessed Man from Mark 5. But the roles have been reversed. The teacher has become the student.

If you’re not familiar, Mark 5 tells the story of a wild man, possessed by an army of spirits, living among the dead with self-destructive behavior that means he’ll have his own grave soon. His family tried to stop him, but he can’t, won’t be stopped. Then Jesus shows up and the spirits start groveling before the all-powerful. Long-story short, The demons are exorcised and the guy gets his life back.

When we teaching a Bible story, we tell the story several times and then ask a series of questions to get people talking and thinking. I have already asked the question, “Was there anything you didn’t understand about the story?” No one responds. “Was there anything unclear in the story?” Still nothing. The terror of looking stupid is global problem.

So, I opened my mouth to get us talking. “Many times I’ve told this story, people struggle with why Jesus allows 2,000 pigs to die and the village to suffer such a financial loss. I don’t know about you all, but I don’t really understand this . . .” Short-story long, the army of dead afflicting this guy need a new home. They ask to possess the herd of nearby pigs. Jesus consents. Chaos ensues. The fallout is so bad that, once news gets out, the entire village shows up and ask Jesus to kick rocks; the implication being that Jesus may be bad for their health and bad for business, no matter who he saved.

The students were honestly dumbstruck that I was asking the question. I’m no stranger to playing devil’s advocate, so I insisted this really was unclear. The look on their face was the look of people accustomed to incompetence. If translated, I think the verbalized look would be , “Sheesh! Another one?” They instructed me this was the whole point of the story, that Jesus would rather 2,000 pigs die than this man—this man’s life is that valuable to Jesus.

Now it was this dummy that was struck. From my perspective, the 2,000 pigs are completely arbitrary. But my students-turned-instructors were right. Our salvation comes at a cost. The danger is we (Westerners at least) abstract salvation to the point we often think of it as a muttered prayer or a couple of lifehacks that cost us nothing. Untrue. Evil, true, unfettered malevolence, does not go quietly. These spirits were not going away until they completed their chaos with killing. Evil’s lust for destruction cannot be satiated without a ransom: something on which to pour out their violence.

C. S. Lewis famously illustrated this “ransom theory” when Aslan, the great lion, is killed by the White Witch. Aslan’s at the hands of his enemy breaks the long winter spell. Dietrich Bonhoeffer who ended up paying the ultimate cost for resisting evil, also taught that grace is not cheap: it is a costly discipleship. My
Malagasy students understand this. And Jesus considers the economic tragedy of 2,000 dead pigs a cost worthy of a man’s life. A person past the point of no return, no less. Yet, the true tragedy is that most of us, like the townspeople in the story, if we’re really honest, think it’s too high a price to pay for anyone’s life.

I thanked the students for reminding me of this. Salvation is a gift, but it is not cheap or free. 

Mahafaly Bible Stories: Moses

Hello, it’s me again, the Traveler, and I have a story to tell you. It’s a story from a book of holy writings called the Bible. This book is a collection of many stories, and they have all been brought together to tell the whole story. It is the story of our ancestors, and our story. Let me tell it to you.

This story is called, The Calling of Moses . . .

The Calling of Moses

It came true what the Prince of Creation had said to Abraham: those from Abraham’s heart, his tribe, settled and grew. But, these from the tribe of Abraham, at that point, did not stay in the land given to Abraham by the Prince. Instead, the settled in a land inhabited by other people. And they suffered in that land, enslaved and suffering badly. Just then, the Prince of Creation made a plan to take them from there, leave that place, and finally go home to the land given to Abraham. So he chose someone, one person, to lead them there. Moses is the name of this person.

So there was Moses. Then one day, Moses went to shepherd out there. So there he was out there, shepherding. And when he was out there, he saw a bush in flames! But the bush did not make any ashes, it did not turn to ash at all! So befuddled by all this was Moses, he went and visited this bush.

A voice, then, spoke from out of that fire there, “Mosesy! Mosesy! Slip out of your cow-hides there. This is holy ground.”

Moses took off his cow-hide sandals. Moses got closer to the plant. Again, there was a voice, “Mosesy! You’re going to be sent by me. You will go to the land of Egypt where the lineage of Abraham is suffering. They are ensalved by that land. And you will lead them to get them out of there, to not be there anyone. And you will lead them to the land I gave to their ancestor . . . that’s Abraham.

“Aha,” said Moses. “Look, I, even though you’re sending me to go there, those people don’t miss the sound of my voice. They won’t take me seriously, but this is what they’ll say, “Hey! What God and from where said all this to this guy? I’m a person who doesn’t know how to talk. So you just pick another person.”

“Aha,” said this voice. “You look, I am the Prince of Creation who is said to have always been from ages past. That’s me. I am the Prince of your ancestors. Abraham’s God. Isaac’s God. And if you speak this, my name, to them they will be afraid and they will believe what you say. All this that you’ve said, like, ‘I don’t know how to talk.’ Look, I made the mouth. And I will put want I want to say in that mouth of yours, and the same thing will be done to the mouth of your brother, Aaron. You two guys are gonna go over there. “You all,” said the Prince, “I will be send with three signs.”

So then, after all that, Moses left and met with his brother, Aaron, took him with him and the two guys went there. And when they arrived there in that town, they gathered the tribe of Abraham there. They told them the story of what God had said, how he would get them out of that land, and go to the land the Prince had given to Abraham. And, they also did there, those three signs. After that, the tribe of Abraham was good and scared and they believed the Prince and trusted Moses.

Then, the tribe of Abraham was happy and thanked the Prince and they were saying, “Would you look at that! God sees our suffering and he’s gonna get us out of this suffering to the land there that he gave our ancestor Abraham.

And that is the story taken from the holy writings, and it’s all true.