We have seen God move in mighty ways as he speaks to us as a community and not just as individuals. One evening in one of our house churches we were studying Mark 5:1-20, where Jesus delivers and heals the man called Legion. Although we share the duties of leading the study, it happened to be my turn to lead. I had prepared by reading the passage, studying some commentaries, getting the historical context, all the things that a good preacher would do. As I was leading the discussion, Daphne brought up a difficult question. Now in our group we have many divergent personalities and perspectives. Daphne is a vegetarian and she is a vegetarian because she has a very soft heart for animals. I on the other hand, am a farm boy raised in rural Alberta who respects animals but believes that they are part of God’s provision for humans. I love a good steak or a pork roast. Daphne and I have learned to appreciate each other’s perspectives and enjoy some good-natured humour at each other’s expense as we would share a meal together at church. Daphne was disturbed by the fact that Jesus allowed the evil spirits to enter the herd of pigs which led to the pigs plunging down a steep hill and drowning in the lake.
As a theologically trained person I began to wrack my brain trying to come up with a good reason for why this might have been done. None of the commentaries I had read had addressed this issue. I suspected that it had something to do with God’s judgement against the owners of the pigs and I vaguely remembered something like that from Bible college. But fortunately before I said too much I opened the question to the rest of the group. Another member said, “It makes me think of the high value that Jesus placed upon the man named Legion. Jesus loved this man so much that He was willing to allow the death of 2000 pigs to demonstrate the value of this man’s life.” We continued the conversation talking about the value that God places even on the sparrows and how this man had been cast out by his community and was driven out into the tombs where he lived among the corpses. The community did not want to have anything to do with him and treated him like garbage but Jesus showed him love and community. This made some sense to our whole group and we believed that this was the message God had for us that night.
The next day, I received a phone call informing me that a friend of mine had tried to take his own life and was in the hospital. As I went to visit him it occurred to me that this man had something in common with “Legion.” My friend (I will call him Legion Two) was very much rejected by society. He was a twice convicted high risk sex offender whose victims were children. Society at large tends to consider such people impossible to rehabilitate and chases them out of their communities. I had become part of a Circle of Support and Accountability group (a highly effective ministry of the Mennonite Central Committee) and had been holding him accountable and supporting him so that he would not reoffend for about three years.
Legion Two told me that he felt hopeless, unloved, rejected, and hated. He had tried to end the emotional pain. I shared with him what our house church had been studying the night before and told him of the value that Jesus had placed upon another person whom the world had rejected. Legion Two broke down in tears. This was a key turning point in this man’s life and his spiritual journey toward Jesus.
Our community had heard a message from God as together we grappled with a challenging passage. And God spoke to another person through our community. This was a tremendous encouragement to our body of believers. I was glad that I had not simply preached to a crowd and that we had a format that allowed God to work in this manner.