The image is like a scene out of an old black-and-white Hollywood horror flick: a desolate graveyard near some nearly bare and rugged mountains, an animal-like howl that no human voice should be able to utter, and a dirt-encrusted human figure with unkempt hair and scars from shackles and chains. As I sit in my warm little house with the desk lamp providing light that breaks the darkness inside while keeping at bay that which surrounds the outside, it’s almost as if I can hear the cries of a soul tormented almost past endurance. It seems an appropriate time of day to read the story of the Gerasene demoniac who lived a life of darkness even in the brightest of noonday suns.
To the people of the time, he was a person who was afflicted with one or more demons, something that made him unfit to live in any kind of proximity to any but the carrion birds and the occasional shepherd or swineherd who probably came no closer than they had to. Did they blame him for his condition? Did they whisper about what monstrous thing he must have done to have deserved such a punishment? Did they blame the parents for evil doings so that their son was forced to live almost as a wild beast? People can be so cruel, and this village was probably no different than any other when faced with something they couldn’t understand or that disturbed the peace of the population.
The coming of Jesus probably gave the demonic intense pain; someone was coming and invading what little sanctuary he had and for what purpose? To torment him more? To try to re-chain him and restrain him from running to try to escape the turmoil within himself? A man stepped out of a boat and the demoniac moved toward him, perhaps to try to chase him away before he, the demoniac, could be hurt again, perhaps in response to something that had broken through the madness and spoke of help that had come in the person of this stranger.
The modern equivalent of the Gerasene demoniac is present among us even in the middle of a big city: the returned soldier haunted by dreams and visions of conflict in which they saw, heard and maybe even did too much, the person who walks around in dirty clothes who dialogs with an unseen partner, the woman trapped into a life of bingeing and purging as the whitewashed tombs of what culture defines as beauty builds up around her and seemingly cuts her off from reality. These are the Gerasenes among us, those who have no hope much less sight of Jesus getting out of the boat and approaching them to heal the brokenness within them. That lack of hope is just one more demon.
Today those who suffer from serious mental illnesses, as a result of trauma or chemical imbalance in the brain, be captive to fear of those who try to help. The medicines and/or treatments can seem almost worse than the illness itself. I wonder, would or even could those suffering the isolation, confusion, and altered reality of mental illness and disability do what the Gerasene demoniac did by walking toward someone instead of running away and trying to hide? Would they know deep within themselves somewhere that this was a person who could heal them, not hurt them?
The demons we all have inside us can be little unheard voices that push us to buy that new car because (a) we really need a flashier ride, (b) would be cheaper than fixing up the older model we already have, and possibly (c) would impress the neighbors and promote a feeling that we are successful and things are going great for us. They nudge us to buy that wonder pill that will dissolve all our physical lumps and bumps without changing our diet or exercise level, or to trade our hard-earned cash for that celebrity-endorsed beauty product that will make us look years younger without doing more than applying a cream or perhaps getting a few injections. They also encourage us to think of ourselves as a lot better than we are or a lot worse than we are by magnifying our perceptions of our virtues or our sins, depending on the circumstances.
For Christians, Jesus is almost always the answer yet we tend to forget where to find him. We don’t realize that he is as far away as the whitened tombs of our fractured egos, unfulfilled desires and frustrated dreams will keep him and yet as close as our next breath and one unuttered word, “Help.”
It’s our choice and we have to make it before we can begin to heal and, as part of our recovery, to look about for the opportunity to help others. We can’t heal them, but maybe, just maybe, we can find a way to let them see we are there to help, and that there is someone greater than our puny demons who can help them too. It’s worth a try.