Chapter & Verse: Luke 8:26-39
Rosalind Selby considers demons and depression
This tough text is the Gospel reading set for 19 June. Here is Jesus healing a man who lived across the lake in the country of the Gerasenes. The man gives himself the name Legion, which described his overwhelming experience of evil. The “demons” beg Jesus to be allowed to enter the pigs, which then charge over the cliff and are drowned.
It is a hard read: why, we might ask, could Jesus not have healed without the death of so many of God’s creatures? It’s also a hard read because we are invited into the gut-wrenching experience of a man who is spiritually and mentally disturbed to the point where he has to dwell at the very margins of society. His own family and community finds him unacceptable – and, we discover later, they even find Jesus’ healing and the change in the man terrifying. My plea is this: don’t read the description of this man’s life and plight too quickly; sit with it and allow the reality to touch you. (Mark 5:1-20 is an even more vivid description.)
The man Jesus heals is “possessed”, naked, lives amongst the tombs and has experienced attempts to chain him down; this is a Gentile land on the edge both of Jewish territory and of the Roman Empire. Every one of these details is a cause, or a mark, of exclusion.
The point at which my heart goes out to this man is when I realise he has lost sight of himself. Jesus asks for his name and the answer he gives names not himself but the evil that has taken hold of his life. He cannot use (or remember?) his given name, which would have recalled a family who chose it for him, or handed it on from grandfather or father. Whoever his family are, or were, he is completely cut off from them. Neither is he capable of naming himself as an individual – or seeing himself as a valued child of God – God-created and God-loved. The man has become objectified, and we, as readers, have no choice but to continue that process. Here I am – here we are – engaging with the text and having to call him “he”, or “the Gerasene Demoniac”. We too are reduced to naming him by his condition, his geography, or a pronoun that could refer to half the world’s population. This man was a human being in torment…
This is an extract from the June 2016 edition of Reform.