Healing and Reconciliation
In the ministry of Jesus, healing often leads to reconciliation. Disciples of Jesus partner with Christ in the healing of the world in every dimension: physically, spiritually, mentally. Read the following story of healing, with your eye on all the dimensions in which healing occurs:
[Jesus and his disciples] came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones.
When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country.
Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea.
The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood.
As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for
him; and everyone was amazed (Mark 5:1-20).
As with many of the passages from the Gospels that we have studied, this story may be interpreted on many different levels.
• It is frequently read as a story of Jesus’ challenge to Roman domination, as the occupying spiritual force in the man’s life is called “legion”; the animal the legion begs to go into is a herd of swine, and the boar or pig was the symbol of the Legio X Fretensis that besieged Jerusalem around the time of the composition of the Gospel of Mark; the animals “charge” into the sea, as would an army. Some understand the man with the legion of demons to represent the populace who have internalized Rome’s domination to such an extent that they do harm to themselves.
• Today, let’s look at the story as a healing with consequences of reconciliation.
When we meet the demoniac, he is isolated and chained, separated from all human community and dwelling among the dead. Like the citizens of the nearby town, we hear him howl, and see him bruise himself with stones, without knowing how to help him, or perhaps without the willingness to go into his place of misery to try to help.
• The man doesn’t even wait for Jesus to reach him, but rushes forward,
recognizing him as “Son of the Most High God” (a hellenistic phrase).
• The “colonizing” spirits are at first afraid of Jesus, and then ask to be sent into the swine, who charge into the chaos of the sea and are drowned.
When next we see the man, he is sitting calmly, clothed and “in his right mind.”
• This is the happy ending, right? But no, the swineherds are afraid – not at the chained man or at the swine – but at the man’s healing.
• Now that the man is healed, the villagers will need to re-integrate him into their community. Is this what frightens them, that the man will change roles within their society, from an isolated demoniac to a fully participating neighbor?
• Or, thinking politically, are they afraid that the man’s freedom and ability to think rationally will threaten their Roman overlords?
Jesus will not allow either the healed man or his community to avoid reconciliation.
• He will not allow the man to leave and join his disciples, but commands him to stay, saying ironically, “Go home to your friends….” (literally, “Go to your home, to yours….”).
• The movement of the story, then, is from isolation, desolation, and death to community, gratitude, and fullness of life.
• As disciples of Jesus, we are to join in this same movement, to be instruments of God’s healing and reconciling love.
Questions for Reflection
• Have you ever experienced a situation in which people were happier maintaining someone’s sickness and isolation than accepting the person anew, healed and participating in their family or community?
• Write the ending of the story yourself: What did the man choose to do in his village? How did his neighbors respond to him? Imagine that the Kingdom of God was truly made visible in this man’s re-integration into society. What would that look like?
Almighty and most merciful God, we remember before you all poor and neglected persons whom it would be easy for us to forget: the homeless and destitute, the old and the sick, and all who have none to care for them. Help us to heal those who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow into joy. Grant this, Father, for the love of your Son, who for our sake became poor, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (From The Book of Common Prayer, p.826)