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“No one was tough enough to control him”

July 25, 2023

Daily Scripture

Mark 5:1-5

1 Jesus and his disciples came to the other side of the lake, to the region of the Gerasenes. 2 As soon as Jesus got out of the boat, a man possessed by an evil spirit came out of the tombs. 3 This man lived among the tombs, and no one was ever strong enough to restrain him, even with a chain. 4 He had been secured many times with leg irons and chains, but he broke the chains and smashed the leg irons. No one was tough enough to control him. 5 Night and day in the tombs and the hills, he would howl and cut himself with stones.

Daily Reflection & Prayer

The central figure (besides Jesus) in this week’s central story lived like an animal. He was terrifyingly strong, unstable, living isolated “among the tombs,” where “he would howl and cut himself with stones.” He was not just “unemployable”—he was, for the people of his area, totally uncontrollable, except to drive him away from themselves. It’s hard to imagine a person who more urgently needed Jesus’ help!

  • This man was frightening, a violent, disturbed outcast. Yet even meeting him in a weird, scary setting (“among the tombs”), Jesus maintained his calm self-possession. What enabled Jesus to resist fear in situations that trigger it in most people? Do you believe his quiet confidence created a more supportive, safe environment for others, including this raving madman, to change their lives for the better?
  • Christian psychologist and physician Dwight Carlson noted that some Christians use a story like this to suggest that God sees anyone experiencing severe mental/emotional illness as sinful. * Mark gave us no back story on the man, and Jesus did not condemn him—he simply healed him. How can activities like Resurrection’s Counseling and Recovery ministries make church a safer place for people experiencing mental and emotional struggles, as well as physical ailments?

Lord Jesus, you met a man from whom everyone else wanted to run away. But you cared, and you healed. Thank you for being willing to care about and heal the parts of me that frighten even me, too. Amen.

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Brandon Gregory

Brandon Gregory

Brandon Gregory is a volunteer for the worship and missions teams at Church of the Resurrection. He helps lead worship at Leawood's modern worship services, as well as at the West and Downtown services, and is involved with the Malawi missions team at home.

Pastor Adam has mentioned this numerous times from the pulpit, but our current understanding of modern medicine along with historical context of the Scriptures usually points to mental illness as an explanation for what Biblical writers referred to as demon possession. Is it possible that this man had an actual demon inside of him? Well, possibly, but the simpler explanation was that he had a severe mental illness, and that’s what I’m going with.

From the passage, we get the story that many people had tried to restrain this man and lock him away. But notice what the passage doesn’t say. Nowhere does the passage mention that this man hurt anyone, besides himself. He was frightening and uncomfortable, but we don’t have any evidence that he was actually dangerous.

This is actually a perfect story to describe mental health crises for many people who cannot afford healthcare to fix the issues. Mental illness is often blamed for violence. While a mental health crisis can result in violence, the mentally ill as a whole are no more likely to be violent than the rest of the population—and, in fact, they’re actually much more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. Much like the man in today’s story, they can be frightening, but they’re a lot more likely to be locked up and pushed away than they are to hurt others.

Actually, I shouldn’t be saying “they”; I should be saying “we.” I have a severe mental illness: bipolar disorder. When people talk about severe mental illness and mental health episodes, they’re usually talking about a disorder like mine. (Seriously, it’s almost always bipolar disorder or schizophrenia—which my uncle has.) Without effective medical treatment, I don’t think I’d be like the man in today’s story, but I certainly wouldn’t be as accepted in society as I am. I’m extremely grateful that I’ve had access to medical care since I was diagnosed in 2002, as it’s really enabled me to live a somewhat normal life.

As modern Christians, we’re unlikely to encounter mentally ill people living among the tombs, but we do encounter people with severe mental illness—people who need healing, and a place to heal. An estimated 30% of chronically homeless people have mental health conditions, and about 50% have co-occurring substance use problems. U.S. prisons and jails incarcerate a disproportionate number of people with mental health issues, with an estimated 43% of inmates in state prisons having mental health issues. 27% of police shootings in 2015 involved a mental health crisis, and many first response teams are not staffed to send mental health professionals to these events instead of armed police officers who are not trained for those situations. Even for those of us who are able to keep a steady job, many of us have healthcare tied to employment, so losing a job can set off a spiral of bad reactions that can lead to extreme circumstances.

We tend to lump a significant number of people into a mental category that’s basically “bad people.” These are the people who make us uncomfortable, whose behavior we can’t relate to or explain. This mental grouping contains a lot of the people I mentioned above—people with conditions like mine. Chronically homeless, incarcerated people, and people going through mental health crises—these are people we all too often just try to lock away and not look at.

The most important lesson we can take from this story is Jesus’ response. Jesus not only looked compassionately on this man; he went where the man was, in a place no one else would want to visit, and talked to him, asked him his name, and stayed with him in that dark place until he was healed. That’s where the church needs to be: not just sitting in our pristine buildings, accepting those who wear their Sunday best, but going into the dark places the “bad people” have been forced into. We don’t need to hold the healing within our walls, we need to take it to the people who need it. I believe Resurrection is doing exactly that, but ministries that we host and partner with are always in need of time, money, and support.

© 2024 Resurrection: A United Methodist Church. All Rights Reserved.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

* For a more in-depth study, see Dwight L. Carlson, Why Do Christians Shoot Their Wounded? Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994.