Sunday, March 23, 2014


They came to the other side of the lake, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.’ For he had said to him, ‘Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He replied, ‘My name is Legion; for we are many.’ He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged him, ‘Send us into the swine; let us enter them.’ So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the lake, and were drowned in the lake.
 The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighbourhood. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. But Jesus refused, and said to him, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.’ And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed. -- Mark 5:1-20
The image is like a scene out of an old black-and-white Hollywood horror flick: a desolate graveyard near some nearly bare and rugged mountains, an animal-like howl that no human voice should be able to utter, and a dirt-encrusted human figure with unkempt hair and scars from shackles and chains. As I sit in my warm little house with the desk lamp providing light that breaks the darkness inside while keeping at bay that which surrounds the outside, it's almost as if I can hear the cries of a soul tormented almost past endurance. It seems an appropriate time of day to read the story of the Gerasene demoniac who lived a life of darkness even in the brightest of noonday suns.

To the people of the time, he was a person who was afflicted with one or more demons, something that made him unfit to live in any kind of proximity to any but the carrion birds and the occasional shepherd or swineherd who probably came no closer than they had to. Did they blame him for his condition? Did they whisper about what monstrous thing he must have done to have deserved such a punishment?  Did they blame the parents for evil doings so that their son was forced to live almost as a wild beast? People can be so cruel, and this village was probably no different than any other when faced with something they couldn't understand or that disturbed the peace of the population. 

The coming of Jesus probably gave the demonic intense pain; someone was coming and invading what little sanctuary he had and for what purpose?  To torment him more? To try to re-chain him and restrain him from running to try to escape the turmoil within himself? A man stepped out of a boat and the demoniac moved toward him, perhaps to try to chase him away before he, the demoniac, could be hurt again, perhaps in response to something that had broken through the madness and spoke of help that had come in the person of this stranger.

The modern equivalent of the Gerasene demoniac is present among us even in the middle of a big city: the returned soldier haunted by dreams and visions of conflict in which they saw, heard and maybe even did too much, the person who walks around in dirty clothes who dialogs with an unseen partner, the woman  trapped into a life of bingeing and purging as the whitewashed tombs of what culture defines as beauty  builds up around her and seemingly cuts her off from reality. These are the Gerasenes among us, those who have no hope much less sight of Jesus getting out of the boat and approaching them to heal the brokenness within them. That lack of hope is just one more demon.  

Today those who suffer from serious mental illnesses, as a result of trauma or chemical imbalance in the brain, be captive to fear of those who try to help. The medicines and/or treatments can seem almost worse than the illness itself.  I wonder, would or even could those suffering the isolation, confusion, and altered reality of mental illness and disability do what the Gerasene demoniac did by walking toward someone instead of running away and trying to hide? Would they know deep within themselves somewhere that this was a person who could heal them, not hurt them?

The demons we all have inside us can be little unheard voices that push us to buy that new car because (a) we really need a flashier ride, (b) would be cheaper than fixing up the older model we already have, and possibly (c)  would impress the neighbors and promote a feeling that we are successful and things are going great for us. They nudge us to buy that wonder pill that will dissolve all our physical lumps and bumps without changing our diet or exercise level, or to trade our hard-earned cash for that celebrity-endorsed beauty product that will make us look years younger without doing more than applying a cream or perhaps getting a few injections. They also encourage us to think of ourselves as a lot better than we are or a lot worse than we are by magnifying our perceptions of our virtues or our sins, depending on the circumstances.  

For Christians, Jesus is almost always the answer yet we tend to forget where to find him. We don’t realize that he is as far away as the whitened tombs of our fractured egos, unfulfilled desires and frustrated dreams will keep him and yet as close as our next breath and one unuttered word, “Help.”  

It’s our choice and we have to make it before we can begin to heal and, as part of our recovery, to look about for the opportunity to help others. We can’t heal them, but maybe, just maybe, we can find a way to let them see we are there to help, and that there is someone greater than our puny demons who can help them too. It’s worth a try.


Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, March 22, 2014.

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