"For us let it be enough to know ourselves to be in the place where God wants us, and carry on our work, even though it be no more than the work of an ant, infinitesimally small, and with unforeseeable results."
-- Abbé Monchanin

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A 21st Century Demoniac of the Gerasenes?

They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”

Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.

Mark 5:1-17 New International Version

As we reflect upon the tragedy of 8 January 2011 and offer prayers for those killed and injured and their families, let us not forget another set of victims of this horrific incident. Let us offer our prayers and compassion for the family of the young man who did the shooting, and for him also.

Imagine for a moment the pain of the shooter's family as they take upon themselves a part of the guilt for his actions. Feel the pain of a mother whose son has committed such an evil act. Try to experience the feelings of a father who sensed something wrong, sought to find his son and control him, yet failed. Ask the questions they are asking, "What more could I have done?" "What did we do wrong?" "Why did this happen in our family?"

Try for a moment to understand the torment of the soul that has driven a young man to be filled to overflowing with frustration, hatred and violence. What would it take for you to lose control your yourself in such a way?

When the local people in the region of the Gerasenes could no longer live with the uncontrollable violence of the young demoniac in their community, they drove him out to live among the dead. That was their solution. Isolate the problem.

When Jesus encountered the young demoniac, his solution was to cure the problem. Remove the forces that drove the man to violence. Restore his sanity and restore him to society as a positive contributor rather than a disruptive, destructive agent.

Jesus considered the life of one demoniac to be more important than the economic gains of the community. He was willing to sacrifice a whole herd of pigs in order to restore one rejected man.

The community had a different set of values. The loss of their unclean wealth was more than they could bear. Pigs were more important than a mad man. So they begged Jesus to leave before he could possibly encounter any more societal rejects and sacrifice more of their profits in restoring them.

Unfortunately, we are more like the Gerasene community than Jesus. We are glad to reduce responsibility for the violence to the acts of a mad man rather than examine the role of violence in our own actions. What words do we use about those with whom we differ? How do we use power to restrain others? How do we deny the humanity of those who differ from us in culture, ethnicity, religion or politics?

Why are we unwilling to provide mental health care which could prevent the suffering of many and reduce the chances that their agony could lead to violence? Are our profits so important? What pigs are we protecting?

What is the value of a human life?

Those of us who profess to follow Jesus have no option but to behave as he behaves. We cannot dismiss this shooter as simply a "nut case." We must pray for him. We must begin to strive to love those suffering with mental illnesses. And we must join in the effort to reform our society so that those with mental illnesses have the treatments they need and that their families have the assistance they need in compelling their suffering loved one to enter into treatment.

Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.”

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