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Gadarenes in the Classroom

“And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men. And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.” Matthew 8:28-34

I wonder how often in our classrooms we might have the spirit of the Gadarenes? We’ll take the devil we know rather than the divinity we don’t. We’ve all had those classes which felt daily a struggle. Perhaps it’s the material, which seems deadened. Or the students who seem un-enlivened. Or the pressure of the clock or the pacing objectives or the grading standards or parent or administrator expectations. We pray for relief, much as, we hope, the Gadarenes may have prayed for those two men. “Deliver them” I hope they prayed. “Deliver me” is too often my cry; not “deliver us” from the afflictions besetting us; never the prayer an AA friend taught me, “O God, bless them and change me.”

Do we have eyes to see and ears to hear when the Master arrives? We’ve prayed for deliverance. We hope that’s a quiet return to our regular expectations and experience. We forget that love is violent to save, as Augustine said. We forget the Exodus, salvation by plagues and passage through the Red Sea. We forget the hard liberty of the desert, the Israelites ever longing for Egypt, hoping for a slightly less severe slavery. We forget the judges and kings and prophets. We forget Jesus overturning tables, casting out demons, roaring at death, destroying it, rising again, sending His Spirit which comes as a mighty wind, His promise that, as the wind, so will His people be, blown by the Spirit we may not know where. Is this the deliverance we pray for?

Or are we as the Gadarenes? Content with a more comfortable bondage for others, which is a bondage of themselves. The bondage of others an inconvenience-they must go around-but not a barrier. Life, even life afflicted, can continue. And if they prayed, what of their prayer? “Lord, deliver us, deliver them!” When He does, it comes at a cost, the destruction of their livelihood. Yet greater is the salvation of one soul, the release of one captive. The great irony that they would have chosen demonic affliction than the salvation of Yahweh before them in Jesus. He casts out the demons; they cast Him out.

What happens in that trouble-beset classroom? Perhaps it’s a student’s moment of vulnerability. Not in the lesson plan. No neat, tidy way to address. Class time “given up” to this expressed need. Or a student question not on my notes but far more penetrating. Or even if not more penetrating, a question at which, if we pay attention, the class perks up. “Go there, follow that!” they silently cry. And we too often reply, “That’s a great question, but we can’t address it right now.” Or perhaps it’s a larger question, one that might require a rereading of a book. That’s not in the pacing guide. It’s not in my notes.

In all these, I think of John Mark Reynolds who remarks, “Follow the Logos where it leads.” I’d slightly reframe. “Follow the Logos where He leads.” Jesus is ever present by His Spirit; at times, His leading is sudden and disruptive. Will we choose the divinity-revealed freedom rather than the devil-beset slavery? The latter we can control, or can more easily be controlled by. The former we must abandon ourselves to.

A challenge for both the teacher and the administration: will we risk giving to teachers the freedom to follow Jesus as He walks amidst the students and teacher in their classrooms? Will we support when parents question why another reading of the same book, which must mean the excising of another from the year?

May we be a people who follow Him wherever He leads.

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