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.
Seek out Jesus. If you seek him, you will find him. Jeremiah 29:13 quotes God as saying, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jesus is anxiously awaiting you. Bring the things that bind you to him. Talk about what isolates you from others. Tell Jesus what has died inside your soul. And let him resurrect hope. Bring your needs to the healer. And secondly,
2. Spend time with Jesus
This may sound redundant, yet if you look at the story, verse 35 records the man sitting at Jesus’ feet. This is after his mental healing. He is in his right mind. All is well. So why is he taking up the position of a disciple at the feet of his rabbi, if he’s already gotten his healing? Because he knows he has so much further to go.
Aristotle once said, “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” So it is with the Christian life. You never stop growing. You never arrive. You always need time with Jesus. Every day of your life. The moment you think you don’t, that’s when you really do! Spend time with Jesus. And then lastly,
3. Spread the good news about Jesus
This fellow wanted to stay with Jesus the rest of his life. And he did, in a sense. After all, we know you don’t have to be physically present with Jesus to be in his presence. Jesus asked the fellow to follow him in a different way. Jesus wanted him to go home to his own hometown and talk about what God had done. Listen to Jesus’ clear instructions in verse 39: “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” And what did the man do? Listen to the rest of the verse: “So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.” You see, this man made the connection that Jesus is not just a good Jewish teacher. He is not just a prophet. He is God; Jesus is God in the flesh. And the man gladly obeyed and spread the good news about Jesus all over town.
That is your instructions, too. Along with the original believers gathered at Pentecost, we are to be Jesus’ witnesses. In Acts 1:8, Jesus promises, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” It’s not complicated. We don’t have to know how to parse Hebrew verbs. We don’t have to have half the New Testament memorized, or quote the ten commandments by heart. We just need to be a witness. A witness in a courtroom setting just tells what he or she has seen or heard or experienced. That’s what we do. We share with others what we have experienced with Jesus in our life.
The gospel of John records Jesus healing a different blind man than I mentioned before. This time the Pharisees brought the man before their tribunal demanding to find out what was going on. John 9:25 records the man’s response to their complaints about Jesus: “He replied, ‘Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!’” That man was a witness, simply sharing how his life had changed now that he met Jesus. Like Sergeant Joe Friday in Dragnet, “Just the facts, ma’am!” We just need to share what we know.
When your mental health is taking a nose-dive, look for Jesus. Seek him out. Spend time with him. And tell others what he is doing in your life. Let’s pray:
Father, thank you for today’s amazing story of transformation. Please be at work in us, transforming each of us more and more like your son. Help us to bring every need to you, including our mental health needs. And help us to share the love of Jesus with everyone we meet. In his name we pray, amen.
For welcome time:
A group of psychiatrists were attending a convention. Four of them decided to leave, and walked out together. One said to the other three, “People are always coming to us with their guilt and fears, but we have no one that we can go to
when we have problems.”
The others agreed.
Then one said, “Since we are all professionals, why don't we take some time right now to hear each other out?”
The other three agreed.
The first then confessed, “I have an uncontrollable desire to kill my patients.”
The second psychiatrist said, “I love expensive things and so I find ways to cheat my patients out of their money whenever I can so I can buy the things I want.”
The third followed with, ”I'm involved with selling drugs and often get my patients to sell them for me.”
The fourth psychiatrist then confessed, “I know I'm not supposed to, but no matter how hard I try, I can't keep a secret...”
Jesus Restores a Demon-Possessed Man
26 They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. 27 When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” 29 For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.
30 Jesus asked him, ”What is your name?”
“Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. 31 And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.
32 A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. 33 When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
34 When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, 35 and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. 37 Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.
38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying,39 ”Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.