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Expelling Demons

In King Lear, perhaps my favourite Shakespeare play, the King says at one moment

“Let me not be mad
Not mad sweet heaven.
Keep me in temper
I would not be mad.”

There was in times past, before Freud, Jung and all those who followed, a great fear of mental illness, of being ill and of encountering those who were ill.  Even as recently as when I was a boy there was a local place mentioned only sotto voce where people were locked away and where my grandmother would suggest I might be terribly sent if I did not stop childishly chattering to myself.  So much was this imprinted on my mind that when some years later I felt I had to visit a friend who had suffered a severe nervous breakdown I was really terrified of what I might find inside its walls.  To fully appreciate today’s Gospel reading we need, I think, to recapture the fear of madness that predates our modern enlightened understanding.

It is significant that the introduction to this story of the demoniac begins just four short verses before with the description of Jesus in the boat with the disciples calming the storm.  Then, after Jesus has rebuked the raging winds and waves, they “arrived in the country of the Gerasnes.”  Here Jesus meets something more terrifying than the great storm.  Winds and waves are physical things we can touch and feel them and have some understanding of how they work but now we have a picture of the epitome of madness.  A man in a strait jacket and even that cannot reliably constrain him.

“He was naked, lived among the tombs, was bound with chains and shackles but many times he would break these and return to the wild.”  So mad was he that he was obsessed no one demon but by Legions of them.

Jesus though is not frightened, he walks up to the man, he is calm and he subdues the demons by a conversation.  So effective is this that the storming raging man is immediately transformed to his right mind, a polite fully clothed member of the audience sitting around Jesus’ feet.

Jesus is able to heal all things.  In this account of divine power, those who witnessed it were seized with fear but of course, this all took place before: before Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection through which he became known to us clearly and unambiguously as the son of God.  So WE should not be afraid, whatever it might be that is broken in us, or out of control, addiction, bad temperament or mental illness of any sort, Jesus can heal us and so we pray that Lord, as you expelled the demons from the man in Gesara that you will by our faith in you expel the demons that are in us, wherever and whatever they may be.

Amen

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