“When Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all expecting him.” -Luke 8:40 (CSB)
Rejection. Such a dark word and such a painful experience. Rejection can make us feel ugly, unwanted, unappreciated, and alone. And yet, in spite of the loneliness which often accompanies it, rejection is an experience almost universal to humanity. Have you ever met anyone who hasn’t faced rejection at some point in their life?
Jesus was no exception to this painful and difficult experience. In the Gospel of Luke, the story is told of Jesus delivering the Gadarene demoniac (Luke 8:26-39). The demoniac was a man possessed by a group of demons so large that they identified themselves as “legion” (Luke 8:30). In the course of the encounter, Jesus commanded the legion of demons to leave the man and instead enter a nearby herd of pigs, thus delivering the man of the demons which for so long tormented him. This man had been driven away from society into isolation – away from his family, his friends, and all of those he knew and loved. Over time, others had sought to intervene to help him, but the demons possessing him were too strong and caused those trying to help to be overpowered. Now, at long last, he met Jesus and Jesus set him free! In the aftermath of this remarkable deliverance, one would expect that all the people of that town would be rejoicing at the wonderful miracle that had taken place in their midst. Instead, they approached the Lord Jesus and asked him, in no uncertain terms, to leave their presence…
It is truly hard to imagine the scene. The Lord did battle with the legion of demons possessing this man (who, by the way, was so isolated in the midst of his possession that he had taken up residence in the local graveyard – the tombs), cast them out into a herd of pigs which then drowned themselves, and the town was delivered of their demonic tormenters. However, in the aftermath of the exorcism, it was not the demons that the townsfolk feared but the Lord Himself. In their eyes, He had destroyed their property (the pigs). In their eyes, He had brought judgment upon them as a community. In their eyes, He had brought hardship, dishonor, and calamity upon them – never mind the miraculous healing of the demoniac. As the old saying goes, “no good deed goes unpunished…” and Jesus experienced the reality of this saying in the aftermath of the exorcism.
Sometimes, in the course of serving others in the name of the Lord, you will be rejected. Its truly not a matter of if, but when. Sometimes you will be rejected by onlookers who mistrust you or question your motives. Sometimes you will be rejected by loved ones who don’t understand why you’re working to serve someone else. And sometimes you will even be rejected by those whom you serve. To experience any of these scenarios – and particularly the last one – is among the most frustrating, discouraging, and emotionally challenging of experiences. Sometime ago, I went to visit a man in the hospital who had been diagnosed with cancer. I had not met him previously but had been asked by some of his family to come see him. After trying to encourage him and his family through conversation and having prayer with them, I asked him if there was anything more I could do to help him. He appeared to think for a moment and then said, “Yes, as a matter of fact, there is, preacher.” I then asked, “What can I do?” He responded, “You can leave and not come back.”
Jesus doesn’t instruct us to pretend like rejection doesn’t hurt. He knows the real and raw pain of rejection, and He knows it intimately – as this biblical account reminds us. Contrary to the advice commonly offered by others as remedies for these experiences, Jesus doesn’t tell us to “build a bridge and get over it.” He doesn’t tell us to “put on a happy face” and pretend like everything is fine. And He doesn’t tell us to take the apathetic approach and simply not care what others say or think. However, Jesus does provide a model for how to productively and faithfully move forward in spite of rejection.
In the aftermath of the Gadarenes’ rejection, Jesus could have called it quits. He could have told the Father, “Look, these people aren’t going to follow me – they don’t even want me in their own town. I help people – I heal the sick, deliver the possessed, and protect the weak and vulnerable – and they ask me to leave. What good am I here?” However, He didn’t do this. Instead, he modeled a healthy, productive, and God-honoring response to rejection: He simply moved on and left everything else in the Father’s hands.
In Luke 8:40, Jesus returned to Galilee, where He received a radically different response than was given him by the Gadarenes. Upon His return to Galilee, the Galileans rejoiced at His coming and gathered around Him to see and hear what He would do next. Jesus chose to move forward in ministry in obedience to the Father and in answer to the needs of others who did not reject Him but instead welcomed Him. One person, one community, one group – even one town – does not represent all the people of the planet. Accordingly, rejection by one person or one group of people does not mean we have been rejected by the entire world. Rather, it is an indication that we need to move forward in obedience to the direction of the Lord and His calling – just as Jesus models and just as the Lord directs.
“The righteous keep moving forward, and those with clean hands become stronger and stronger.” -Job 17:9 (NLT)