The (Other) Great Commission
by Al Tizon
As spectacular biblical stories go, the story of the Gerasene demoniac in the fifth chapter of Mark sits near the top. Hollywood can truly go crazy on this one, especially in light of the pop comeback of vampires, werewolves, and superheroes. The story has all the ingredients of a blockbuster: a resident army of demons that calls itself Legion, a tormented man who lives among the dead, a face-off between good and evil, suicidal pigs, a stunned village, and the ultimate triumph of God. Imagine what M. Night Shyamalan could do with it!
But as spectacular as this story is, I was drawn to its more subtle turns as I meditated on it the other day, particularly in the brief exchange toward the end between Jesus and the liberated man. In the wake of his dramatic deliverance from years of torment, the man implores Jesus to allow him to join him and his disciples. Here is a newly whole, fired-up person, willing to go to the ends of earth with and for Jesus.
And Jesus' response? He "did not let him, but said, 'Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you.'" Instead of signing him up to go to regions beyond, Jesus sent him home. Instead of "Go," Jesus essentially said to the demoniac-turned-missionary, "Stay." Stay—but not to sit idly by; stay to testify to the good news right where you are.
Instead of "Go," Jesus essentially said to the demoniac-turned-missionary, "Stay."
I speculate that the transformed man had to fight off an initial wave of disappointment. After all, isn't "to go" the ultimate act of commitment to the gospel? The Great Commission of Matthew 28, which the church has lifted up as the primary missionary text, makes that clear. To stay seems so second-rate. Staying put in this dead-end town to do God's will—how glorious and sexy can that be? We want to go where people dress funny, where they speak in strange tongues, where people have never heard the name of Jesus. We want to go where professing faith is politically dangerous. We want to live on the edge, putting our lives on the line for the sake of the gospel. We want to feed the hungry, provide shelter for the orphan, fight against human trafficking, and transform whole villages for Christ. We want to dodge bullets! The point of this meditation is that there is nothing in this rant that does not apply right here and now. None of us has to go very far to get into the thick of God's mission.
I'm certain that human need also abounded in the Decapolis (the Ten Cities) wherein Jesus told the former demoniac to stay in order to testify to the good news. The story of the Garasene demonstrates the divine missional call to stay in order to address those needs by the power of the gospel. That's why I call Mark 5, "the other Great Commission" chapter. It should tell us that it is not going or staying that necessarily defines mission. At the end of the day, mission is simply testifying to God's saving, liberating mercy, and then backing up our testimonies with the fruit of that mercy in our deeds and in our lives, wherever we are.
I was raised in a nonreligious home. My parents, both deceased now, did their best with us five children, and I love and respect them for that. But their own relationship had insurmountable problems. Consequently, there was a lot of yelling and screaming and violence in my house. They did finally divorce—the lesser of two evils in hindsight. They also both remarried within a year, so within a short period of time we had to get used to a step-mom, a step-dad, and several step-siblings, not to mention having to go back and forth between two households. I was 14 at the time, and in reaction to the family chaos, I paved my own highway of self-destructive behavior, which included drugs and alcohol, parties and rock concerts, girls and popularity-chasing, and vain and godless philosophies (including starting my own religion!). I trusted no one and believed in nothing beyond myself. Life between the ages of 14 and 17 was intense. When I decided to sin, I sinned boldly, to borrow Martin Luther's famous phrase. And the results left me emotionally depleted, psychologically confused, physically sick, and spiritually dead. But then…Jesus.
But then Jesus rowed his boat ashore and heard my cry from the depths of my being. My Gerasene moment was at a Wednesday night youth meeting called Son City where I heard the gospel for the first time. I responded in faith, and God saw fit to liberate and save me.
This is the edited version of just the beginning of my story. What's your story? Whether a convert from a former street life or a cradle Christian, we each have an exciting story, and we should be telling it with our words, deeds, and lives right where we are. For the same call that Jesus issued to the former demoniac applies to us all: "Tell [people] how much the Lord has done for you and what mercy he has shown you."
Al Tizon is formerly co-president of ESA and associate professor of holistic ministry at Palmer Theological Seminary.