by Niki Turner
Picture this: Jesus and the disciples have just crossed the Sea of Galilee. During their crossing, they experienced a storm violent enough to make professional fisherman quake in their sandals and fear death.
It's not hard to imagine the collective sigh that went up when the boat reached the other side of the lake. Anyone who has been on a turbulent airplane ride knows what it feels like to land safely at your destination. There are grins and giggles, and a general atmosphere of relief.
In the midst of that atmosphere of cheer, you see a figure coming your way along the beach. Fear of the unknown causes the hair on the back of your neck to prickle uncomfortably. No one knew you were coming this way. No one should be coming to meet you.
As the figure draws near, your hesitation turns to terror, mixed with disgust. You've heard the rumors. In fact, you've listened to the stories about the madman of Gadara around the evening fire, at turns laughing, pitying, and fearing.
Surely not, you think, watching the awkward progression of the figure across the sand. Is he naked? Are those chains dragging behind him attached to manacles at his wrists and ankles?
You finish securing the boat, aware that it is your only means of escape, and stand up, puffing out your chest in a frivolous attempt at bravery. Now the figure, a man, is easily within your field of vision. His hair is long and matted, his fingernails grown into claws like an animal's. That he is human you cannot ignore, but no human in your social circle, narrow as it may be, would ever appear in public devoid of clothing and as unkempt as this fellow.
Out of the corner of your eye you catch movement and turn—horrified—to see the Master set out with determined purpose to meet the mysterious interloper. Frantic for the Master's safety, you hurry after him, heels digging deep into the sand as you run. As you draw closer, still several feet behind the Master, your nostrils fill with the repugnant scent of unwashed human emanating from the approaching figure. His naked body is covered with barely healed cuts, some obviously infected and oozing pus.
You ready yourself for battle to protect the Master just as the figure drops to his knees in the sand. The guttural cry that erupts from the man halts your progress mid-stride.
"What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me."
It's only then that you hear the Master's voice, quiet and calm, speaking to the man. "Come out of the man, unclean spirit!"
Your strict religious training demands that you cover the naked man and silence his crazed rant, but the part of you that has come alive in the presence of the Master is moved with compassion. You watch, awed, as Master Jesus commands the evil minions that have tormented the man to leave him. Before your eyes the man drops to the ground in utter exhaustion. Nearby you hear a ruckus. Recognizing the sound of pigs in distress, you turn in time to see a herd of hogs running madcap toward a nearby cliff. To your surprise, they neither slow nor stop at the edge, flinging their portly bodies off the precipice without so much as a squeal. A shiver runs up your spine.
You turn back toward the Master. He has dropped to His knees to embrace the madman of Gadara, whose heartbreaking sobs echo across the lake. The compassion that struck you earlier now overtakes you completely, and you see the madman through a different set of eyes ... eyes that acknowledge the abuse, the poverty, the fear that marked his life. Appalled, you squeeze your eyes shut, but the images remain.
When, at last, you summon the courage to open your eyes, it's to see the Master, seated in the sand alongside the madman, who is still as naked as the day he was born. But suddenly, his nakedness reminds you of your own weakness, your own shortcomings. It reminds you that you were the one who cried out in the midst of the storm on the lake and was swiftly rebuked. His voice, "where is your faith?" echoes in your mind.
You return to the boat and dig out your box of belongings. You rummage through it until you locate your best attire, the stuff you'd been saving for a special occasion. Holding it up to the light, you see it for what it is ... a blessing, meant to be given, not hoarded away. Filled with purpose, you clamber off the boat and stumble through the sand to the Master and the madman of Gadara. It's to him, the madman, that you present your offering.
The Master smiles and wraps his arms around your shoulders in a hug, and you know, without the shadow of a doubt, that you have pleased Him, and that is more than enough to satisfy your soul.
(Just using my imagination to picture what might have happened in Matthew 5, Mark 8, Luke 8.)
Can you imagine the naked madman of Gadara running to meet Jesus' boat? Can you imagine how the disciples might have responded? It makes me wonder how we, as His body, respond to the people who pass through our lives, whether at church or at Walmart or Target or on the street. Do we pass judgment, ignore and avoid, or welcome, receive, and accept?
About the Author: Niki writes fiction, blog posts, articles in the local newspaper, grocery lists, and Facebook status updates. She can be found at her own blog, In Truer Ink, in addition to posting here. She was a 2009 finalist in the Faith, Hope, and Love "Touched by Love" contest.