Tornadoes touched down Sunday in a small town a little over an hour north of where I live in Oklahoma. Initially, news reports speculated two people had died in the storm. This morning, however, reports indicate one confirmed death. I didn’t know the person. I’m not even sure his/her name has been released to the public. But somebody out there is experiencing loss today. Not just the loss of a loved one but the loss of tornadic devastation.
I saw another news report about sixteen people who died in the same storm in Little Rock, AR.
I thought about how that number—16—seems so much bigger than one. I thought about how easily the one in Oklahoma can be lost among the sixteen in Arkansas.
That made me think of another time where numbers were significant.
Jesus and His disciples docked their boat and trekked up the hill to a small village in the Decapolis. It was a Gentile village, so Jesus was showing His disciples how He wanted to expand His ministry to the “unclean”. As the small group approached the outskirts of town, a wild beast of a man accosted them on the hillside. Naked and wild-eyed, the man bore little resemblance to a human anymore. He resided among the dead in the tombs. The townspeople had failed to contain him, so they left him to his misery. Broken chains hung from his wrists like iron reminders of his imprisonment. Blood dripped from the self-inflicted gashes in his skin. Filth spewed from his pores and his mouth. “What do you want from me?” he asked Jesus.
In the same breath, he begged Jesus not to torture him. A tortured soul asking not to be tortured? Can you even fathom that level of darkness?
Jesus recognized the evil within him and commanded the impure spirit to leave the man.
In a nearby field, some men were tending to several herds of pigs totaling two-thousand. They tended to pigs, but not to the man. I wonder if they had stopped seeing him.
Jesus saw him. Not the demon-crazed, tomb-bound man. He saw the man within. The human being crying out day and night, begging for mercy.
The demon called himself Legion. I always wondered if that name had some sort of evil meaning, but I read somewhere that was the largest unit of the Roman army, containing three-to-six-thousand soldiers.
Did the man have a legion of demons in him? A whole army of evil battling against his very soul? Perhaps, because “Legion” asked, nay begged, Jesus to grant permission (demons don’t TELL Jesus anything! They must bow to His power!) to enter the pigs.
Jesus agreed and the man was freed.
Immediately the herd of pigs rushed to the cliff and plummeted to the water below.
The people of the town were furious. How dare Jesus allow two-thousand innocent pigs to die all for one man! They vomited their disdain at Him and deigned to tell Him to never return to their village.
They got caught up in the numbers. Two-thousand pigs versus one man. (Mark 5:1-20)
But Jesus saw him, He had compassion on him, and He saved him. And to Jesus, one IS important: “There is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away” (Luke 15:7).
This story of the demon-possessed man can be quite haunting, but I find it comforting to know that even though I am just one person, I am an important one to Him.
May we pray for the families of the sixteen in Arkansas, the one in Oklahoma, and the other one, the lost one, the one that matters, always, to Him.