May I speak and may you hear through the Grace of our Lord: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen
The importance of being aware of our state of mental health is a topic that many of us have come to recognise over the last couple of years. For a long time this subject was hidden away like the people who were affected by it.
Prior to and including the 19th century the authorities thought they had the answer and gathered those afflicted (and sometimes those who were not) into asylums where they could be treated. Perhaps the most famous of these was the Bethlem Royal Hospital, known better by its synonymous name of Bedlam. The buildings of this psychiatric facility were dirty, dark, and cold, with no windows and no hot water. When a group of MPs visited the hospital for scrutiny in 1814, they were shocked at the sight of the small cells where people were chained to the beds or walls. Just one blanket was provided to each patient to protect them from rats and cold. The hospital was even once a popular tourist attraction in London, offering morbid entertainment to the curious.
The Victorians made more humane changes to the way that these patients were treated, but it was still an ‘illness’ that was managed rather than cured. Treatments were often brutal, though bloodletting, purging and electric shock treatment. For many years same-sex attraction was also regarded as a mental illness and right up until the late 1980’s people underwent electrical aversion therapy; who can forget the treatment of Alan Turing.
Of course, medical understanding has advanced enormously over the years, but in Jesus’ time people who were suffering mental illnesses would have invariably been described as being ‘demon possessed’ and this morning we meet one such man.
However, this is not a man who has been shut away, this is a man who has been shunned by society, homeless and alone. As a Street Pastor, I would meet many people living on the streets, and I mean literally living on the streets. No home comforts of three-square meals a day or a warm shower every evening. Their beds were the dark corners of a municipal car park on plastic and cardboard, surrounded by the smell of urine and narcotics. No wonder depression and psychiatric illnesses were common. Now that is not to imply that all homeless people will suffer from mental illness, but very often mental health is affected by homelessness.
There was always the need to see beyond the grime and dereliction of self-worth to the child, son, father, husband, mother that this person was before and still needed to be. When Jesus encounters the demoniac at Gerasene his desire was to restore the man, so that he could play his part in telling others what God could do for them.
The casting of the evil spirits into the swine may have produced a spectacle that amazed and terrified its onlookers, but its effect was to bring people running towards Jesus rather than away.
Jesus’ ‘treatment’ of the demoniac was one of love and caring. The people found him at Jesus’ feet, calm and restored, a world away from the human that they had bound in chains and shackles to protect themselves.
Was the demoniac cured? We would hope so. Would he suffer from future psychotic episodes? We would hope not. But what he would be as he returned to live in society, was released from feeling unloved and rejected. His encounter with Jesus had produced a purpose and a mission to tell his story in order that others might come to see for themselves what Jesus could offer them.
Setting aside his medical rehabilitation, this man had found faith. It had been revealed to him through Jesus’ actions, but what had brought Jesus, from the northern town of Capernaum to a place situated about thirty-five miles south east of the southern end of the Sea of Galilee, in a country that was at that time part of Syria, rather than Israel? This is indicated by the fact that a herd of swine was being kept nearby, which would have been forbidden by the Mosaic Law, since swine were unclean animals.
Paul may have been called the apostle to the Gentiles, but Jesus also extended God’s mercy to both people and locations that were outside of Israel, as he did for the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter and here in the Decapolis region. Both of which are an example and foreshadowing of the manner in which salvation through faith in Christ was later to be offered to Gentiles as well as Jews.
This morning the Galatians, in what is now modern-day Turkey were hearing the Good News that all are one in Christ, and that same promise is given to us right here in our church and community. There is no-one that God can’t use to get his message across, and no-one will be rejected if they have faith through Jesus
Within God’s kingdom there is no-one, male or female, sane or insane, gay or straight, believer or non-believer who is not a child of God through faith.