The gospel speaks to everyone in whatever situation or condition of life. That’s not to say God provides all with neat answers according to our wishes. For those attracted to its message the extraordinary accounts of Jesus gift to heal people’s physical condition is so inspiring. It’s not as commonly described but there are accounts of Jesus intervention in people’s lives in other ways. Naturally, his encouragement to love and show mercy.
Today’s reading is more specifically directed to mental health.
The gospel tells us of a so-called deranged man, ostracized from the community so now lives in the partial shelter of a cemetery. He is described as the antithesis of the common life. He lives virtually naked, displays fits of rage that even the chains that have been placed on him are frequently broken. When asked by Jesus what his name was, he declares ‘legion’ because he has been possessed by numerous devils.
The story proceeds to describe Jesus power to cleanse him of such evil. He regains his peace of mind and returns to normal life.
In our times there has been considerable discussion as to how we should understand the description of this event. We describe things according to the way we understand life. For example in our day we are more inclined to view this event through the mental health paradigm. The mental health diagnosis might be ‘multiple personality syndrome.’
It is a common behaviour for the human mind to split internal experiences of the mind into various compartments. It helps us to maintain a reasonable semblance of equilibrium when we are dealing with highly contentious and contradictory experiences. It would seem that given certain other circumstances, such as trauma or shock, or genetic disposition such splitting might become a permanent feature of someone’s personality.
I wonder if this might have been another way of diagnosing the so-called demoniac of the Gadarenes.
THE POWER OF EVIL
The gospel tells us that the evil he is possessed by, not only structurally divides his mind but distorts his emotions. He is regularly explosive and aggressive. He creates fear. He has become a broken fragment of society with whom no one will associate.
Why is it evil? Because it has destroyed his life.
The gospel tells us that Jesus commands the evil to leave him and that in turn it enters the herd of pigs and similarly destroys them by causing them to run down into the lake and drown. Evil will stop at nothing to destroy.
So we are presented with a further question. Is evil a unique and separate entity?
Whatever it is, it is a display of energy that has become a destructive force. The energy is such that it embraces personality with a vice like grip the person cannot break free of it. It not only controls a persons emotion but it plays up with the persons thinking. They might imagine themselves to be someone they are not. It may lead to someone believing others are evil while they are good.
Anybody can see the gun laws in America are evil but so many are convinced the laws are for Good. ISIS has convinced itself that its evil is good because what they are doing is in the name of God.
The mind distorts and deep human passions are stirred to inflict destruction. Such destructive displays of passion create a reality that lies deep in the heart, mind and soul of people. It’s important to note that the prime energies of life arise from our reptilian part of the brain. If not humanized, socialized or enlightened it is a perfect foundation for destruction.
People’s lives can turn to the point of doing evil in the name of good.
A PARTICULAR POINT
The gospel makes a very strong point to emphasis that life can so easily turn to a very real and destructive force. It can seem to create a life of it’s own. It tells us of such energy impacting upon the nearby herd of swine. All of life has energy and whether for good or evil it moves through communities. It can transform a community into destructive behaviour. Here it was symbolized in the destruction of the swine.
Back to the gospel we need to pin point the heart of this passage. Jesus is not afraid. He is always in control of his own destiny. His love is strong and he sums up all situations well. He has an impact upon this man that engages all domains of his experience. It is the quality of human engagement with another that releases a power that speaks powerfully.
Jesus engagement with the demoniac affirms him as a person. It releases the negative energy, that we might also perceive as negative spirit. The equilibrium of the man is restored. A unity of spirit flows positively and he is able to dwell in the company of others.
He recommences the journey of productive living.
Evil is real, but how should we talk of it? It is powerful for it destroys, perhaps itself, perhaps others. Jesus presents himself as someone whose love and spirit of life can transform people. He can transform all people by reshaping our disjointed, dislocated, life. He is what we might call the archetypal person. He is the internal reality of all of us. He is the foundation that we build our own life upon if we want to experience the fullness of being.
I have presented this picture of evil for a purpose. It is very easy to blame something beyond us or even others. That is only part of the story. We have to take responsibility for the way we deal with life, the good and the bad. Christians are called to do it in the light of Jesus power for good, for life.