Scenario. A young professional woman, an engineer, works overseas for two or three years to “get her feet wet,” really wet, after graduating from school. She is a Christian. She’s been brought up that way by church-going parents. She is a product of white, mainline Protestant America, did all the right things, and made a career for herself that she can fall back on when, after marriage and the kids past infancy, she can work again at a job that she likes and that pays well.
Her time at the foreign firm is up, and it’s time to head home to America, the bread basket of the world, where along with wheat, broad evangelical piety is also the export. While she was working, she must have made an impression on the people she worked with and got to know. Aware of it or not, they’ve been watching her round the clock, taking stock of her every word, every move.
They noticed when she went along with them to a pub and socialized. They saw her gathering herself up on the weekends to go to church services. They didn’t go, of course, but she went, to hang out with those religious folks that they liked to keep at arm’s length. But that was okay with them, as long as she didn’t ask them to go too, because she knew how to drink a hearty ale with the best of them.
Now it was time to bid farewell, and they presented her with a gold cross on a necklace as a going away gift. Very nice of them, that they appreciated her and wanted her to know just how much. It was no mere trinket, and besides, it let her know what they thought of her, and her religion. They were right to think she’d like it—probably something she wanted to get herself, but never did.
They noticed her neck was bare.
People have many ways of keeping, not sin but, God at arm’s length. The usual way is by ignoring Him, but if pushed they might push back. They even have figured out ways to bribe Him to stay out of their lives. They do “good deeds” and become “good deed doers.” They run marathons to raise money for breast cancer research. They buy Girl Scout cookies, so girls can go on outings together. They volunteer for “Meals on Wheels” and deliver canned goods to the Food Bank.
People even have ways to reward God for staying out of their lives. One of the ways is by patronizing His devotees. It always amazes me how lavish is the Portland community’s praise of the Greek Festival hosted every year by my church, Aghía Triás. They just love us, and they reward us by spending tens of thousands of dollars at the festival every year. As for them, they love us because we keep our mouths shut about Jesus. As for us, we think we deserve their support for, after all, we are Christ’s people, and our Church, the light of the world.
So her co-workers gave a gold cross on a chain to decorate her for keeping out of their lives, and staying in her own. Christians are welcome as long as they’re not blabbing about God, constantly disrupting the lives and comfort of the people around them.
It goes even deeper. If you let your following of Christ, not your religion, direct you in your day-to-day affairs at home, at school, or in the workplace, even without speaking the Word of God to anyone, people will notice, and they may even reward you like they rewarded the young lady in the story—or they may give you the hatchet, as they have to many friends of mine, and even to me. You just never know what the world’s denizens will do with you.
But either way, they’re still holding you, and ultimately Christ, at arm’s length, so as not to be infected by your disease, pleased to wish you farewell, before they lose any more madmen to sanity, or swine to drowning.
So those who fed the swine fled, and they told it in the city and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that had happened. Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. And those who saw it told them how it happened to him who had been demon-possessed, and about the swine. Then they began to plead with Him to depart from their region.