Summary: The fellow with a legion of demons reminds us to consider: what binds us? What isolates us? What has died within us? Looking to his example, we can 1) seek out Jesus, 2) spend time with Jesus, and 3) share with others what Jesus has done for us.
Mentally Ill Made Well
Many years ago, my wife and I were at a church where the “Power Team” came to perform. They broke stacks of blocks and bricks. They even tore apart chains. And in the midst of all the entertainment, they talked about their personal faith in Christ. While human strength can break some chains, some invisible chains require the power of Jesus to destroy. These are the chains that bind.
Today’s story is one of my favorites in scripture. Maybe it’s because I have worked in mental health for several years. Scripture records many times Jesus heals medical problems, but what about mental problems? Those are very real, too. They are medical just as much as leprosy or blindness; but they carry a hidden stigma because no one can see them. When people ask how you are doing, it’s one thing to say, “Well, I’ve gotten over the flu bug.” And it’s another thing to say, “You know, my depression is much better now. Thanks for asking!” That takes a lot of courage!
Scripture calls the man in today’s story demon-possessed and says he has an “unclean,” “impure,” or “evil” spirit. As Jesus talks with him, it becomes clear that he has a “legion” of spirits. A Roman Army legion had up to 6,000 troops, so that’s a lot of spirits! Mark’s gospel tells us the demons went into 2,000 pigs, so that gives an indication of the complexity of this man’s spiritual and mental state.
If I was to diagnose him in today’s terminology, I might say he has severe unmedicated bi-polar disorder with some strong manic phases. Or perhaps paranoid schizophrenia. I’m not saying mental health problems are demonic. But I guess they are in a way, as all sickness comes ultimately from Satan. It is not part of God’s original pre-fall plan for this world. And someday God will take it all away.
The fellow in the story is certainly having a bad life. Living naked, isolated from his community. They’ve tried to put him in four-point restraints, but he breaks free every time. Think about his symptoms in symbolic terms, as you consider the three questions at the top of your outline. First,
1. What binds you?
Verse 29 notes that “he was chained hand and foot.” Mark’s gospel says these were metal chains. People tried to bind him up. I doubt if anyone has wrapped you in metal chains lately, but perhaps you have been bound in other ways. Maybe it was someone’s hurtful words. “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words...will break my heart.” Or maybe it’s crippling anxiety you’re carrying that you were never designed to carry. Maybe worrying about things outside your control. Maybe self-doubts. I read a great interview this week with the first three-star female African American general, a West Point classmate of mine. Dr. Nadja West talked quite openly of her early self-doubt, thinking she would never make it into medical school, or even last in the Army. Yet, she kept rising up to every challenge. We all have things that bind us, that hold us back. Or question #2,
2. What isolates you?
Verse 29 tells us this fellow “had been driven by the demon into solitary places.” I’ve worked with lots of Veterans who have isolated themselves, either due to fear for their own safety or the safety of loved ones, or feelings of overwhelming guilt and shame, feeling unworthy to rejoin the human race. Isolation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If I’m never around anyone who can show me unconditional love and acceptance, then I will continue the downward spiral of self-condemnation and despair. What has pushed you away from the healthy company of others? The third question:
3. What has died within you?
Verse 27 tells us this fellow “lived in the tombs.” He was like the walking dead. I guess he had quiet neighbors, but it’s a sad place to call home. Have you had some part of you figuratively die? Maybe you’ve given up hope in finding a friend or a lover. Maybe you’re no longer sure about your health or future. When hope is hard to find, you may feel like the walking dead yourself.
So what do you do when you find yourself in dire straits? When your own mental health has taken a downturn? Does God care? Can God change anything? Yes, he can! Let’s follow this man’s example. Our first step is to...
1. Seek out Jesus
Verse 27 tells us the man met Jesus the moment Jesus stepped foot on shore. It sounds like he was waiting with great anticipation for the boat to land. As he fell at Jesus’ feet, in verse 28, it was probably the demons shouting. Yet, I think there was something within this man that sought out Jesus on his own. Remember, in a different story, when Jesus asked the man at the pool of Bethesda, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6). The guy in today’s story seemed to want to get well. He sought out Jesus even before the evil spirits started to take over the conversation.