It doesn’t matter how many times I read the story; I still find Jesus’s response startling.
Jesus had just cast out a legion of demons from a possessed man. The man had been driven out of town, pressed into chains, and lived wild among the tombs. The truly terrible man seemed beyond repair. That is, until Jesus courageously appeared on the scene and set the man free.
Jesus, all-powerful and mighty, sent the demons fleeing into a herd of swine and saved both the day and the man.
But the story ends differently than we think it should. In our alternative ending, the newly transformed man is welcomed as one of Jesus’s disciples and later drafts his own Gospel complete with his first-hand liberation experience with Jesus.
Yet, that does not happen.
Instead, Jesus turns down his request to follow him and tells him: “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”
Jesus sends the man out to share his story. Opting for reconciliation and the power of word of mouth, Jesus directs the man to share his testimony about the way in which God had shown his mercy and changed the trajectory of his life.
Jesus is directing us to do it, too.
To be as transparent with you as I can, I will confess that the idea of going to the nations, teaching and proclaiming the Good News of Jesus to be intimidating. I have served as a missionary in a variety of contexts and my efforts have always been accompanied with a dis-ease for what I was doing. Even as a staff minister and pastor, I have wrestled with what it is precisely that Jesus wants us to do when we go out in his name. The disciples were directed to spread the Good News and to heal. But truly, what does that look like in our 21st century context?
Jesus’s surprising commissioning gives us insight into what God wants us to do. Like the formerly demon-possessed man, we are called to share our stories with others. More specifically, we are to openly tell how God has been at work in our lives. To the point, God wants us to give a review of the mercy that he has given to us just as certainly as we might give an excellent meal a four-star review online.
True, telling our stories requires courage. Sharing our testimony of God’s grace demands vulnerability and risks looking weak, foolish or human in the eyes of our hearers. It has always been thus. Yet, I am reminded of the eye-opening statement of the noted psychologist, Carl Rogers, who said: “What is most personal is most universal.”
We need one another’s stories so that we do not feel alone. We need one another’s stories so that we can know that hope is real.
The key to sharing our stories—aside from the obvious willingness of the story teller—is the context by which it is shared. Standing on a street corner, yelling your story at traffic won’t get you listeners. It will get you arrested. No, the context that we must strive to create is the setting of a personal relationship with someone in which stories can be shared. If your story is not heard, then it might as well have not been shared at all. We earn the right to tell our stories by investing in the lives of others.
This, however, is only one dimension of God’s expectation of us. In addition to sharing the stories of how God has worked in our lives, we must also strive to be good listeners. For you see, people are telling their stories to us all the time, even when they are not aware that they are. People are telling us about their lives in casual conversations in our neighborhoods, or in the checkout line, or at the end of a particularly poignant Sunday School lesson. And if we are not listening to them, they will never listen to us.
The Good News of Jesus Christ is that God decided to intersect our lives in person. Just as Jesus encountered, and listened, to the story of a Samaritan woman at the well, we too are called to find places of intersection with one another so that we can have a reason to tell our stories.
As one who has been privileged to hear many of your stories, I must report that they are often heartbreaking and heartrending. They are littered with loss and disappointment, tragedy and despair. And yet, the stories have endings that are still changing. Our stories, in Christ Jesus, are always being redeemed. Our stories of sorrow are—because of God’s mercy—becoming places of intersection to prove the hope that God is giving us. And these are the best kinds of stories—tales of transformation, moments of miracles, narratives of laughter and joy.
In truth, these Christ-inspired stories are not only Good News, they represent the best news we could possibly hear.
It would be a shame not to share them.