Reflection for the first Sunday after Trinity.
“People came out to see what had happened and….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.” From Luke 8, 26-39.
“When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.” Mark Twain.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus enters Gentile territory where he encounters a man possessed by demons. In the time of Jesus and in the Bible, this phrase often denoted what would be termed as mental illness today – and to face your demons is still used today to indicate facing up to mental health challenges.
However, this account is a different matter. The man affected is naked and lives amongst the ‘unclean’ dead having been kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, although he had broken free and had been driven out into the wilds. Despite his maddened state, the man nevertheless recognises the authority of Jesus and calls him the Son of the Most High God. When Jesus asks his name, he says it’s Legion, a body of four or five thousand professional Roman soldiers and trained killers – this indicates how great is the turmoil within him. As the demons beg to be allowed to enter a herd of swine on the hillside, it may seem surprising that Jesus allowed this but pigs were also considered to be unclean and, as they rush down the bank and drown in the lake, the demons also die and the man is restored to his right mind.
What’s interesting about this is that the supposedly ‘sane’ people present don’t rejoice at the man’s healing but are afraid at what has happened. They ask Jesus to leave, which he does, but although the healed man asks to go with him, Jesus sends him away and tells him to proclaim what God has done for him. The man does this – but why are people so afraid?
Although the swineherds would, understandably, be horrified at the loss of their animals in this way, perhaps the ‘mad’ man was desperate for change which their comfortable lives resist. These ‘sane’ people are not free as he now is – and from their reaction, they choose not to be. Jesus is to be kept away and at a safe distance where their lives will not be affected and there will be no challenge to them.
Today, mental health issues are a growing concern with more people experiencing difficulties after the isolation and uncertainty of Covid. When I was a prison chaplain, I often met prisoners who should have been in a secure psychiatric unit rather than prison but were unable to receive the help they needed due to a lack of facilities and accessible treatment. It may be thought that a more civilised society today would not treat the mentally ill in the way this nameless man was treated but those living with mental illness – sometimes under bridges, on the streets or in hidden away places – may not agree. And who is the judge? As a person from Yorkshire allegedly said to a friend, “The world’s gone mad except for thee and me. And I ain’t so sure about thee!”
With my prayers; pob bendith,