“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.)” (Luke 8:26 – 29)
Imagine, if you will, Jesus coming to a hospital for the unstable/mentally unwell back in the day when patients were strapped down to beds and kept in locked rooms. Where no care was done and being “institutionalized” meant being warehoused with as little concern as is given boxes of merchandise that is not needed and has not been needed for several decades. Suddenly roaming free sounds like a slightly better alternative to that. Our understanding of mental illness and the way those who are survivors of mental illness has changed drastically. That does not mean they do not suffer; it means steps are taken to mitigate the suffering as much as possible. The one stark difference from this account and what the horrors were of decades ago is that we no longer believe such people are possessed by demons. But sadly we hold those who have mental illness accountable and responsible for their condition. Again, being thought to be possessed may be a kinder thing.
Jesus has compassion for the man, and wanted to release him from this bondage – both psychologically and culturally made. And maybe Jesus actions show that he has an understanding of the “possessed” man that the onlookers did not have.
“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.” (Verses 30 – 33)
As a student of psychology, I do not quite understand or buy into what happened to the demons. I have been told by those who would know that people can, still, be possessed by demons. So maybe this man did not have paranoia or schizophrenia or any of the other possible psychological conditions. I also don’t know where the advantage was for the demons to possess a bunch of pigs. The results, however, caused quite an uproar. And maybe in some round about way that was the Divine purpose.
“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.” (Verses 34 – 36)
Back in the day of insane asylums being “cured” was very unlikely. If the condition itself did not preclude a cure, the conditions they lived under would pretty much assure that a normal life was not possible. And maybe that is the point of the drowned swine. SOME sort of explanation needed to be given as to why the man was “in his right mind.” That the demons were vanquished and so visibly destroyed gave credence to the cure. And the man may well have been accepted back in to society more easily than if his “cure” would have been quiet and without drama.
“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.” (Verses 37 – 39)
It was not an unkindness that Jesus did not let the cured man come along with him. First, we know where Jesus’ ministry would eventually take him. This man had already had a hard road; he did not need to venture down another one. Second, by recounting the story with the drowned pigs gave the cured man’s story a tangible conclusion – that of course he no longer had demons. They were drowned! Third, since Jesus was not welcomed to preach and heal there, the cured man and his dramatic story would have promoted fervor and interest, and those who were NOT afraid of such power would seek him out, or at least seek out new about Jesus.
I had asked before, beloved reader – how to you plan to live out Ordinary Time? How do you plan to live out your ordinary life? And if beloved reader your life is not ordinary, I hope and pray that the Divine is with you in a powerful way; and that you share that story! Selah!