Sunday, March 18, 2012

Jesus, Field of Dreams, and Border Crossovers: Reflections on Mark 5:1-20

The classic film, Field of Dreams, is one of those flicks I can watch over and over again. There is something about the "If you build it, they will come" mantra and the risky vision of Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) that draws me in and even sends me out inspired. I then contemplate where and how I can build my own field of dreams, complete with classic ballplayers who pilgrimage through a cornfield, cross over from death to life, and join me in a simple game of catch.

While my favorite scene is the ending, Ray reunited with his deceased father, in close second is the "crossover" scene (see below). Ray Kinsella has made his journey across the country, following a voice and strange clues, questing for all the right answers to this mysterious and border-line vision of insanity. Along the way he picks up a young hitchhiker, Archie Graham, who longs to fulfill his own dreams of becoming a professional ballplayer. Fast forward many scenes later, to the "field of dreams" in Iowa, where Archie is invited by epic ballplayers like "Shoeless" Joe Jackson and Ty Cobb. While the Kinsella family, to include their young daughter with hot dog in hand, and classic author, Terrence Mann (played by James Earl Jones), are seated in the bleachers, Archie lifts a fly ball into the outfield and drives in the go ahead run- a perfectly executed sacrifice fly by the "rookie." Just as they are reveling in the moment, Ray's brother in-law, who is unable to see these "ghosts" in the middle of a game, interrupts and underscores the insanity that is this "field of dreams" mission. He proceeds to lift up their daughter, Karin, as testimony of their foolishness, only to carelessly drop her from the top bleacher, whereby she is knocked unconscious.

Panic sets in as the camera pans to Archie Graham. If you have seen the movie, you know that Archie is simply the younger persona of the aged doctor, "Moonlight" Graham, whose professional baseball career was short-lived. And now Archie has a choice, stay in the game or cross over the gravel path that separates the deceased ball players from the real world. If Archie crosses over, he will forfeit his youth, regress to an aged doctor, and cut short again his playing career. If he stays, he can play on- but at the little girls expense. The cinematography underscores the drama of the moment, as Archie chooses the former and slowly crosses over the gravel, transfigures from rookie to Doc, pats Karin on the back, and reveals a piece of hotdog as culprit.

A risky and sacrificial crossover brought rescue and healing to the little girl. This is why Archie had was for more than a baseball game. He had come to make a crossover of deliverance.

We come to Mark 5 and we read of another crossover. Jesus and his disciples have been seaside for the duration of the gospel's opening anecdotes. It can be said that Mark has a fondness for the sea as metaphor and allusion. Mark is emphatic about the beginnings of Jesus' ministry taking place by the Sea of Galilee and among poor, Jewish peasants, of which Jesus is certainly one of them. Yet, the Sea of Galilee is about more than geography; it is sacred and mythical symbol: chaos, Hebrew exodus from hard-hearted Pharaoh, and allusion to those very systems and boundaries that exclude and segregate. Up to this point, Jesus has merely "passed along the sea" (Mk. 1:16) and gone out to teach "beside the sea" (Mk. 2:13; 4:1). However, now we learn of Jesus' intentions to "go across to the other side" of the "sea." In other words, Jesus is going to venture from Galilee, home of marginalized and poor Jewish peasants, to the country of the Gerasenes, home of unclean and unwelcome Gentiles, i.e. non-Jews. And just as Jesus crosses over the sea, he "immediately" encounters a demon possessed man.

Similar to Archie Graham, this is a risky crossover that will define much of why the story is being told the way it is being told. That is, Mark unveils Jesus' message and mission as not only for the Jewish remnant in Galilee, but also for the whole of humanity. Jesus is actually redefining who is in and who is out of God's covenantal promises and activity. Actually, in this dramatic crossover, Jesus declares that no one is an unwelcome participant in the Messianic movement. It is a gospel for the whole world.

But that is only the beginning of this subversive crossover.

The story is told that this man had made a home among the tombs, among the dead. He howls into the darkness and bruises himself with stones, an ancient cutter who has resorted to self-inflicted wounds in order to deal with uncontrollable anguish. Scripture says he is possessed by an unclean spirit. Even more, the only encounters this man has had with others have been those who quest to restrain him; no one has even sought to liberate him.

Until Jesus, who has crossed over the sea for such a man as this- an unclean, possessed, Gentile outsider who lives among the dead.

No Jew in their right mind, let alone a rabbinical teacher, would permit interaction with this figure.

Until Jesus, who has crossed over the sea for such a story of exodus as this.

Jesus asks the plaguing spirit to identify itself. The reply, "My name is Legion; for we are many."


A legion was a collection of soldiers in the Roman army. Some have suggested that this man was haunted by the memory of such an army that ransacked his village. The man was traumatized by first-hand viewings of family and friends overcome by the oppressive activity of those dressed in the military garb representative of the powerful empire and emperor. He was unable to escape the evil and injustice that "plagued" him and his community and ultimately left him for dead...among the dead.

That is, until Jesus crosses over. And when Jesus meets the man and identifies the unclean spirits that hold him prisoner, he casts them out into swine of 2000, sends them down a steep bank, and into the sea to be drowned.

Yes, the army sent into pigs and drowned by the sea; a way out made possible for the one held captive for so long.

Sounds a lot like an ancient story. A Hebrew people, slaves to an oppressive empire, who cross over a sea, and leave the army in the waters, drowning their soldiers and all that held God's marginalized people in bondage.

Again, Mark illustrates Jesus as the beginning of a new exodus, a new way out. And it begins with a risky crossover to the other side of the sea.

The story continues as Jesus sends this delivered demoniac to the Decapolis, his hometown, to share the good news of his rescue, "Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you."

And the tomb-dweller does exactly this.

Mark says, "And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed."


Everyone except for those who lost their pigs.

There are always those who are skeptical of Jesus, offended by Jesus, and refuse to make the crossover with Jesus.

There are those who are afraid, crippled by fear, and want nothing to do with the work of Jesus and the kingdom he has come to bring. They cannot see the mystical activity of God unfolding right in front of them and so dismiss anyone who does.

Maybe this is because crossing over with Jesus is hard. It can cause us to be filled with fear, as Jesus invites us to encounter those who are not like us and to enter into meaningful fellowship with those the rest of the world has left for dead, or at least on the other side of the border.

Maybe it's because Jesus challenges the very systems of exploitation that have made possible our privileged status and my context of comfort. Jesus even sends them into swine to be drowned by the sea. So much for the cozy Jesus, long flowing, blonde locks of love, seated among curly haired children, and the staple white, fluffy lamb stage right.

Again, Jesus is illustrated as the Human One who crosses over national borders, social boundaries, cultural assumptions, lines of segregation, and walls of division:

"Mark's portrait of Jesus as a boundary crosser ought to disturb us, given our world of explicit and implicit apartheid, vast economic disparity, and institutionalized enmity. the imperatives to cross the stormy seas of racism, to give priority to those who are poor, and to rediscover human solidarity are urgent today" (Myers, et al., "Say to This Mountain", p. 89).

But let us not forget, this story is about deliverance. Jesus, who was once by the sea, has crossed over the sea, and set free a man bound by unclean spirits of suffering and pain. Even more, Mark's risky crossover story poses many questions to the reader, to you and I.

Would we be willing to do the same? Gravel lines are all over the place and lay before us a choice, will we cross over? Will you be willing to risk it all, reputation, comfort, privilege, pride, to embrace those often ignored, neglected, and labeled unclean? Am I willing to not only hear of others pain, but also enter into it and quest to transform it...maybe even set them free?

Will we cross over racial lines?

Will we move beyond economic divides?

Will we reach across social and political rifts?

Will we enter those places that wreak of death and boldly pursue opportunities to resurrect life?

In light of the hot button political debate, can Jesus' crossover even frame the church's posture in regards to national borders and immigration laws?

Or will we rest in fear, more concerned about our pigs?

The kingdom of God is a risky vision. Better said, God's dreams for the world are border-line insanity. We are invited to sell all we have, risk all that we are, and crossover with Jesus who has begun to build a new humanity for a new creation.

Will you risk the crossover? Jesus already has and beckons us as disciples to come and follow.



Spiritual Formation: Questions to Ponder

Where and/or with whom do you need to cross over and befriend, forgive, invite, embrace, welcome, etc.? What relationships need mending? To whom do you need to say “I am sorry?”


Have you maybe rejected Jesus and Jesus' call on your life? Like the swineherders, are you more concerned about your pigs…

...your reputation?

…your future?

…your doubts?

…your fears?

…your status?

…your faults?

Maybe today you surrender these pigs to the sea and embrace Jesus as healer, friend, teacher, Lord.


Are there deep wounds in your life that have become like demons, crippling you from being all God has made you to be?

Name them.

Are there legions of pain that haunt you and your dreams, plague you from living into the life God dreams for you?

Name them.


Borders are everywhere. Walls of division remind us that we are more known by our differences than what we hold in common. Still, Jesus crosses over all walls of division, all borders of exclusion, all lines of segregation.

Name some of those places locally and globally that you long to see Jesus and those who claim to follow cross over and bring peace, justice, hope, healing, and the love of God.