Reflection: Luke 8:26-39

26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.

27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs.

28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me"--

29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.)

30 Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" He said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him.

31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. 

For me, this story documents that Jesus was curing people of illnesses of the mind, spirit and psyche, not only of physical ailments like blindness and leprosy. I relate to it strongly for I see myself in it, and advice on how to deal with ‘demons’ in others, and in myself.

Fourteen or so years ago, I went to couples counseling to save my second marriage. I was willing to accept guidance on my minor issues, in return for watching the therapist call out and correct the major wrong behaviors my wife displayed. But eventually I undertook personal sessions to augment our joint work, where my counselor explained, “it’s not all about you” or  “your passion for control is really based on fear”. Literally incredible, I could not see or believe these behaviors in myself.

My real moment of truth came when we abandoned couples counseling and began divorce proceedings. The therapist asked if I intended to keep doing my personal sessions. To do so would be to admit that I needed help, that you can’t improve or correct yourself alone. It would also mean to own that I had ‘demons’, unconscious behaviors and patterns, which undermined my ability to commit and to care.  

The ancients called them “demons” and named them after the fallen angels. We use logical and scientific names, like posttraumatic stress disorder, clinical depression, disabling grief, bipolar disorder. To the victim, the suffering is the same. Many of them are defenses, ego defenses. I was still defending against threats that had not existed for decades, but those defenses fought hard to keep “protecting” me. The demons were terrified of leaving their “host”.

I could not at that time, come out and own my issues.  I could not admit that I was human, and flawed and imperfect. I struggled with the decision, and in the end, what I could do, and did, was to keep showing up, even when I dreaded the work. I accepted the counselor’s challenge to pick a church and attend it weekly for a year. I didn’t admit or own anything; but something in me, some quiet urge, loving and devoted to my true health kept me coming back, kept me going to church. That experience was a spiritual turning point for me. I now believe the path to enlightment is to face and reduce your personal darkness, and you need someone else’s support and insight to do it.

What happened to the poor man in this morning’s story, to call for so many defenses and such acting out? We can only guess. He lived in an occupied land during a violent time. But in this parable Jesus shows us the love, compassion and firmness it takes to help someone name and face their afflictions.

This man comes rushing up to Jesus, confronting him and shouting. Christ does not take the attack personally, nor the wild look in the man’s eyes. He knows that the demons are speaking, not the man before him.

The demons are fighting for their lives, fearing the void, and Christ is kind, even to them. He lets them inhabit some nearby swine, eases them out with firm love instead of force. Soon, the cured man sits, “in his right mind” and fully clothed, talking with Jesus. What a miracle, to remove this man’s burden of torment! That’s the public miracle.

The observers, rather than being happy for the man and amazed at the cure, are terrified, and ask Jesus to leave. I think they fear his insight, and the possibility he will reveal or name their shadows. They forget, or did not understand, that Christ loved them despite, or perhaps because of their imperfections. Mental health and personal growth work are still getting a bad rap, to this day.

There is a second miracle here, preceding the public one. A naked, tormented man, not in his right mind, somehow heard a small voice saying, “Go. Find Jesus.” Not knowing what would happen, he dragged all his demons off to the lakeshore, and pushed to the front of the crowd. He might have been horrified to watch himself angrily confront this kind teacher of love for all.  But that small voice came to him, in his madness and despair, and he heard it, and he honored it. He showed up.

What then should we do? See beyond the defenses to the beloved friend imprisoned by them. Don’t take it personally, and be kind, even to extreme “demons”, but be firm that they can’t stay here. And when we experience our own shadows and darkness, listen with all our being for the whisper “Go. Find Jesus.”

The cured man wanted to hang around Jesus, perhaps for the rest of his life. What if the demons came back? What if new issues and fears came up? Jesus told him to go, live his life and tell everyone what God had done.

He did, and so now, have I.  

Thanks be to God.