The Geresene Demoniac
Sermon preached by Dn. Jeff Smith on Sunday, October 23, 2022
Good morning! So, to focus our attention on today’s Gospel, I would like to talk about mental health and salvation in the context of the Geresene or Gaderene demoniac (depending on whose writing). Geresene in Luke. Gadarene in Matthew.
This healing of the Geresene happens just after Jesus calms the wind and the rain of the sea in the boat with his disciples.
What does this gospel have to tell us about sickness and health? Scientific research has given us new names for ancient demons: paranoia or schizophrenia for example. Perhaps psychology can give us a clear understanding of the conflicts within ourselves and can grant us techniques for resolving these conflicts. We have scientific diagnoses for human illness that are described in the Gospel in a more mythological framework. But what is a myth other than a foundational story that holds a community together? All of our stories have elements of mythos. It doesn’t mean they are not true. They tend to point toward the truth. And this story is so graphic and so vivid! And it corresponds to a felt reality. The word demon calls attention to an alien and malign character of disturbing influence. This demoniac was a deeply disturbed and divided person who felt himself possessed by a power that was not human, a power that had somehow gained control over him, and his true self felt helpless before this power. Our inner conflicts are similar. We too have fallen prey to conflicts because we have allowed ourselves to become separated from God, in whom alone we can find our rest.
In truth, there is no line between a “normal” and a neurotic person. We all partake of inner division and hostility. Of course, the term “possessed by demons” applies to extreme cases. But listen to how St. Paul described himself in his letter to the Romans, “I do not do the good that I want, but the evil I don’t want is what I do. I see in my body, another law at war with the law of my mind making me captive. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Now St. Paul’s cry is not at all dissimilar from the demoniacs!
This man’s divided personality was made even more graphic when he cried, “My name is Legion for we are many.” His name was Legion for many demons had entered him. But our experience is also filled with a multitude of conflicts, and we ask, “where is the fundamental unity, some meaning in which I can find peace?” Where is the One Unifier underlying the disordered and random many? Our need is for that which will unify the world of our experience.
The demoniac is a tormented and ostracized man, living unclothed among the tombs, his sensory world is one of pain, and he is worried that Jesus is going to torment him further. But Jesus can and he will cause pain because his purpose is to cure and to save him. His cure will include suffering, because to be saved, we must recognize our need for Him. And that recognition is difficult. It’s easier to hide within our illusions. But the first step toward wholeness and security is to face the facts, when facts can be disagreeable. It is easier to attempt escape in the haven of our distractions than to honestly recognize and try to understand them. But Jesus, the light of the world will not tolerate our illusions. When we find ourselves confused and distressed, torn apart by conflicting reactions to different situations, lacking the knowledge that God will unify our experience and give peace to our souls, God the Father seems far away, as in a void. If our faith appears irrational, or even fanatic, remember this kind of frenzy is the explosion of inner conflict, not the fruit of a spirit at peace. But faith and belief provides a transition from God the enemy to God the companion. When He confronts us, He is the enemy. He demands something from us that we find painful to give up, a radical reorientation. This God feels more tormenting than demons. But when we make the acknowledgement and the adjustment, which is called repentance, God becomes our companion, and the source of our life and peace.
And then the townspeople saw this man “sitting at the foot of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.” To sit at the foot of Jesus is to recover our sanity, for He is the Word by whom all things were made, the Word by which we can live secure, coherent, and creative lives. The Christian always sits at the foot of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, with the glad and obedient acknowledgement of truth wherever it may be found.
When the Geresenes found the man clothed and in his right mind, we are told they were seized with great fear. They asked Jesus to depart from them. Of course, they recognized Jesus’ supernatural and overwhelming power, but they were blind to His glory. Like the Pharisees, they did not deny that Jesus cast out demons, but since their livelihood was destroyed, they ask him to depart from them. They refused to seize this glorious opportunity to embrace Him. The Son of God was standing before them, and they asked him to leave. But in Christ, the power and the love of God is fully expressed. God is Good! And the healed demoniac went home not merely to tell how much God had done for him, but how much He has done for us. Thanks be to God.