I serve as the Spiritual Care Provider at the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital in Vancouver. We are the provincial facility for persons living with a mental illness and in conflict with the law. I smiled when I read my text: the story of the Gerasene demoniac—a man who lived among the tombs—screaming and unable to be controlled: I think I’ve met him before.
It might be helpful to read this story and write down the contemporary words we read every day about persons who are homeless, unkempt, street people, drug addicts, and the like. You might get a better feel for what Jesus found in this man. Jesus knew that living among the tombs would make this man unclean and unable to participate in normal synagogue worship. It would also create a barrier between him and the rest of his community, who would be made unclean by any contact with this person. His uncontrolled behaviour would prevent him from having any kind of relationship with a man or woman. To paraphrase the demon, this man’s name is Legion. And today, they’re still Legion.
Jesus is not put off by any of this. He challenges the demons in the man and restores the man’s sanity. However, a strange response comes from the locals: they ask Jesus to leave. Nothing is said about the man's restoration to reality. I wonder if this man will be welcomed back into his community or if he will be stigmatized as a questionable person?
Our churches can be instruments of God’s peace by welcoming persons like this into our congregation. They do require a great deal of time and attention. And likely, they have a limited time they can stay with you. I remember when ‘Mike’ was getting ready to go to a church. I was concerned, because Mike thought he was Jesus Christ. That’s okay in the hospital, but I wondered how he would be received. I suggested he introduce himself simply as Mike. On Monday, I asked how it went. “Great. They greeted me, and asked me who I was. I said, ‘I think I am Jesus Christ’. And they said, ‘Welcome, we’re glad to have you.’” Mike remained with the church for about two years before taking his own life. It’s for people like Mike that Jesus came to offer His love and healing.
Lenten Reader 2018
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