Politics is fueled by discontent. In every election season, we Americans the world's most prosperous and pampered people take our complaints to the ballot box.
It's the nature of a democratic community that our collective unhappiness drives us to build something better. Like the oyster irritated by the grain of sand, all of human history has been a story of men and women working to smooth the edges of sharp stones.
Unhappiness can be good when it spurs us to action. But what if unhappiness becomes permanent? What if we are always discontented, always disappointed in the life we live, even when political fervor no longer prods us to see every cup as half-empty, or even bone dry?
Know anybody like that?
In the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus encounters a very unhappy young man. He was deranged, screaming at real and imagined injustices, ostracized by his community, dirty and homeless and sometimes chained to keep him from harming his neighbors. It's a terrible story of a community whose collective discontent had driven it to "solve" the problem in its midst by driving it away, out of sight and out of mind.
Unfortunately, this problem was a human being, a son, a brother, a nephew whose life had become a living hell, not only for himself but for all who knew and, at one time, loved him.
Jesus healed the man. When the villagers came to investigate they found him perfectly sane and calm, sitting with the disciples and listening to Jesus' teachings about God's love.
At the end of the story as Jesus prepares to leave, the man asks to go with him. He is grateful and indebted to Jesus. For the first time in years he has been treated with compassion and love; he doesn't want to be separated from the source of that love.
A reasonable request, but Jesus declines. Here's what he tells the man:
But Jesus said, "No, go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful He has been." So the man started off to visit the Ten Towns of that region and began to proclaim the great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed at what he told them. Mark 5:19-20, NLT
Go tell what the Lord has done for you. Go testify to how mercifully God has treated you. The young man did as he was told, and everyone who heard his story was amazed.
Henri Nouwen put it like this:
Gratitude ... is a response to grace. The compassionate life is a grateful life, and actions born out of gratefulness are not compulsive but free, not somber but joyful, not fanatical but liberating.
There is much we can legitimately complain about. But what are we grateful for? Where have we experienced God's mercy in our lives, and when was the last time we testified to his abundant grace, his overflowing goodness to us?
Are we somber, always obsessed with the many injustices we have suffered, or are we joyful, grateful for the unwarranted outpouring of God's blessing and mercy in our lives?
Is it possible that we are so caught up in our complaints that we have forgotten to testify to God's grace?
The overwhelming message of Jesus Christ is that we now have peace with God through the willing, love-driven suffering of Christ for us. There is a possibility, therefore, that with God's help we can rise above anger and rage, disappointment and discontent, hurt and grief, perpetual unhappiness. With God's help, the governing dynamic in our lives can be gratitude and joy, because God has shown us mercy.
The raging lunatic could have dwelt ever after on the horrible injustices he had suffered at the hands of his community, even his own family. Instead, he hurried from village to village telling the story of Jesus' kindness, of his healing, of God's mercy in his life.
And everyone who heard his story was amazed.
Photo credit: Canada.com