Magazine article The Christian Century

Stay and Follow

Magazine article The Christian Century

Stay and Follow

Article excerpt

He was buried alive, this man of the Gerasenes. He was alive, but he lived in a graveyard among the tombs. Modern interpreters tell us that the people possessed by demons in the Gospels probably suffered from forms of mental illness.

Some mental illnesses can be effectively treated, others cannot. Many people suffer from depression, for example, but with a little medication can function quite well as a physician, accountant, pastor or father. Others are possessed by what seems to be a legion of demons. What afflicts them is difficult to manage. Regular living proves overwhelming, and finally a family decides to force the afflicted one out of normal society and into institutions created to house the mentally ill. The Gerasenes' mental institution was the village graveyard.

Jesus always seems to find those who have been separated, from the community. Luke tells us story after story of how Jesus encounters someone who lives outside the covenant community, removes what separates them and then sends them back home where they've longed to be.

Because Jesus has no fear of being ritually contaminated, because he seems to have absolutely no fear of becoming an outcast himself, Jesus often ministers along the margins of society. There he finds the lepers hiding, the blind begging, the possessed raging and the sinful cowering. The gift Jesus brings to those on the margins is to take away the things that separate them and restore them to the heart of the community.

The story of the Gerasene demoniac is yet another one of these healing, restoration stories, but this one has a few intriguing details. Although the detail of the death of the pigs is odd, the best part is the second half, when the townspeople find the former mental patient sitting at the feet of Jesus.

The people have already heard the account of the healing from the herdsmen. They are not amazed or grateful, but afraid. Not knowing what to make of it and not sure they want to hear more, they insist that Jesus leave their neighborhood at once. Jesus, with his "shake the dust off your feet" evangelism philosphy, gets back into the boat without a word and prepares to set sail.

Then it happens. The man who sat at Jesus' feet and who learned from him wants to go with them. Look at his options! He is standing on the beach with Jesus, with the disciples in the boat in front of him and the townsfolk who banished him to the graveyard at his back. He wants to go with the one who healed him, the one who wasn't afraid to come near him, who didn't walk on the other side of the street. …

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