In June 2015, we wrote the following bible study that linked to our End of Financial Year Appeal theme, Helping in Hard Places. Exploring how Jesus often when to the ‘margins’ to serve the people that nobody else cared about, this study is also a challenge to us and our view of the poor and marginalised of the world in which we live.
The Gospels show us that most of Jesus’ life was spent in difficult places and difficult situations. He went to people and places that no one else wanted to; he served people no one else thought were worth serving.
Serving in hard places is often thankless and seemingly endless work. It is hard because it involves making yourself available to the needs of others and being in constant demand.
It wasn’t just that Jesus went to the places where there were people who were in dire need and who were outcast; he also put himself offside with the authorities by associating himself with them.
Jesus’ attitude towards hardship is also an example to us. He never complained about going to serve people living on the edge of society. He was in constant surrender to his Father. It was not just in the Garden of Gethsemane that his attitude was “not my will but yours be done”.
Jesus’ actions illustrated his teaching that life is difficult for many people. He embodied compassion for the crowds because they were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”.
He also said that if anyone wanted to come after him, they must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him, and that the way to life is a long and winding, uphill road.
This is what characterises helping in hard places. Helping is often difficult. It means putting ourselves out there for the sake of others. This is the very nature of love.
This Bible study looks at the theme of helping in hard places by going back to the source of our motivation for doing what we do: Jesus himself as revealed in the gospels.
Luke 8:26-39 (NRSV translation)
Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
1. What was significant about Jesus going to the region of the Gerasenes? Who were the people who lived there? What would it have meant for Jesus’ disciples to follow him there?
2. Why were the locals so fearful after Jesus healed the demoniac? Why did they want him to leave their area?
3. Do you think everyone is called to help in hard places? Why/why not? What would/does helping in a hard place look like for you?
The Gerasene demoniac was an outcast, living on the edges of the local town. Being afflicted with demons, he was treated as a scapegoat. And, being as troubled as he was, he made people feel uncomfortable, and so he was banished to the margins of society, on his own with no one to befriend him or accept him unconditionally.
Dealing with this situation was not easy. It had consequences, not just for the demoniac, but also for the local community. When Jesus healed him, it forced the community to welcome him back in as one of them. This contributed to their fear.
By going to the region of the Gerasenes, Jesus went out of his comfort zone, away from his own people. This also showed his disciples – and us – what it means to follow him. Going where Jesus went means going to uncomfortable places where people are different and often difficult.
Anglican Overseas Aid partners with local communities in the countries in which we work. These partners are following the example of Jesus by working in hard places, and in very hard conditions. For some of them, living in local conditions means a simple home with no running water and regularly experiencing power outages. For others it means being in constant demand to the requirements of people who have all sorts of needs.
Helping in hard places also often means having to remove yourself and gain some space to recuperate if possible. It is important to remember that Jesus did this throughout his ministry. He would often remove himself from the crowds of people and spend whole nights in prayer or would recuperate and allow his energies to be restored.
Living in hard places then involves appropriate self-care as we care for the needs of others. We often neglect this, but even Jesus needed it. He used this time to be alone with the Father, and it gave him the strength to continue to help in hard places.
Idea for application
Helping in hard places often means comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable, as we have seen in the story of the Gerasene demoniac. Have a look at this table that shows the events in Jesus’ ministry when he does both.
Discuss what you see in the pattern of Jesus’ ministry and how it relates to our theme of “helping in hard places”.
Idea for worship
Helping in hard places can also be called “getting your hands dirty”. Jesus is known as doing this quite literally as he ministered in the dusty streets of the Middle East.
Put a mound of dirt in a bucket and immerse your hands in it. Feel the dirtiness of it as it gets under your fingernails, and reflect on how Jesus got his hands dirty by helping in hard places. Think also of anyone you may know who is ministering in hard places around the world.
God of the hard places,
We thank you that when you came to our planet, you went to the hard places where those on the margins live.
Be with those who choose to live and to work in the margins because of their commitment to you. May they continue to see you already at work and that they are not alone in anything they do.
Give us all wisdom and strength as we go into the hard places you have called us to, wherever they may be and whatever it may entail.
We ask this in the name of our Lord who got his hands dirty.