TRA Wordtalks

TRA 28 April, 2002
Jesus Confronts The Mentally Ill

Mark 5:1-20

We see many more mentally ill on the streets of our city these days. Many of them look distressed and are poorly clothed and obviously need medication. Twenty years ago we had 12,500 locked in NSW mental hospitals where they received treatment. Following twenty years of de-institutionalisation, we now have only 2,500 people in mental hospitals even though in this period our population has doubled. 

Many of the mentally ill now live in boarding houses. Some forget to take their medication, move out of the boarding houses and end up on the streets as homeless people. The majority of homeless people today have mental health problems. Others have been placed with an employed carer. But the carer only works thirty five hours a weeks and the mentally ill person is often found on the streets at night and at weekends in filthy and torn clothing, often abusing alcohol and drugs. Many of these people come to Wesley Mission because we give them food and drink. But they will not come into proper care. They are now free people living as they like in the city and they reject every attempt for of other people to care for them. They say to me that they prefer to live on the streets in ragged filthiness. 

Today, there is also an increase in mental illness. Almost every category of illness is on the increase. Bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, psychotic episodes, neurotic behaviour, compulsive behaviour, anxiety and fear disorders, eating disorders and the like are on the increase. Hence you can as easily confront a mentally ill person in the streets today as you could in the days of Jesus.

Our Wesley Hospital, Wandine Hospital, Wesley-Mayo Hospital and Carlingford Clinic have all been established by Wesley Mission Sydney to help heal the mentally ill. Our hospitals are teaching hospitals with the medicals schools of our major universities, hence we have a top line-up of professors working with our 62 psychiatrists, a score of psychologists, and many therapists of various types as well as psychiatric nurses and chaplains. No church in the world has such a commitment to caring for people with mental illness.

Yet many people battle with episodes when they realise that all is not well. They say such things as: "I fear I am going to pieces." "I feel I am disintegrating." "I'm not feeling myself today." "Why don't I look where I'm going." It is our aim to help those people get themselves together again, integrated, whole. We use a wide range of therapies, including the most modern treatments but constantly we stand amazed at Jesus, the great Physician who made people whole: integrated, in their right minds, and able to be restored to their family and friends. In the ten top encounters Jesus had with people, the first that comes to my mind are those when He met the mentally ill man in Gerasa. 

Jesus came over troubled Sea of Galilee to that ill man. God is not absent from our predicament. He comes in Jesus. Jesus comes to us in compassion. Jesus had demonstrated His power over nature by stilling the winds and the waves. Now as He lands on the lakeside, He demonstrates His power over the mind by casting out demons from a possessed man. 

The population on the eastern side of Lake Galilee was largely Gentile. There were ten towns known by the Greek name of Decapolis. v20 The locals kept herds of pigs, animals considered unclean by Jews but desired by the Roman soldiers stationed there for meat. There is a steep cliff and some old tombs there today.

Suddenly a most disturbed person: unclothed, with bits of broken chain hanging from his wrists, with cuts and dirt upon his chest, deranged, shouting, crying, with self-inflicted wounds, who was living among tombs in a psychotic state runs up to him! Jesus confronts the man. He screams v7 "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!" This response came because 5:8 "Jesus had said to him, "Come out of this man, you evil spirit!" I was taught in counselling to be a good listener, to be quiet and reflective, turning the issues back upon the person for their reflection and comment. This is the classic response of Carl Rogers. But Jesus confronts! His is strong Gestalt therapy! This is reality therapy. This is the approach of Frederick Perls. Only after I had been taught in the Gestalt school did I realise how liberating it was with the right person at the right time, to be confrontationalist. For some people it becomes the way of healing. And here is Jesus confronting. Jesus is both compassionate and confrontationist.

Here is a classic description of demon possession. Demon possession was believed in ancient cultures, in modern primitive cultures and among some Western people today, to be the cause of mental illness. 

The symptoms of such possession are like those of psychic illnesses known today: a disregard for personal dignity often seen in nakedness, wearing shabby clothing, neglecting personal hygiene; social isolation rejecting other people; retreating to the simplest kind of shelter, doorways, parks, caves, cemeteries; the capacity to recognize Jesus as divine and the repetition of religious speech or hymns; the frenetic speech, gabbling and shouting; self inflicted injuries and sudden displays of extraordinary strength. Any psychiatrist recognizes these symptoms. One psychiatrist says that verses 3-5 "give a vivid picture of the manic stage of a manic depressive psychosis." 

The mentally ill man had been treated as most centuries have treated the mentally ill. His society had rejected him, chained him, confined him to the caves by the cemetery. We today cannot think ourselves too superior for our treatment of the mentally ill. The man "fell on his knees in front of Jesus" in an act of respect because he recognizes that he is confronted with One greatly superior to him.

Jesus said to him, "Come out of this man, you evil spirit!" Jesus spoke with greater force than that: "He commanded the unclean spiritů" There needs to be recognized authority in all healing of the mentally ill. Like this poor man, many today are living with broken chains, those fears, habits, sins, which once bound them, but which have been broken, but their remnants remain, broken, but still there! The French philosopher Rosseau declared: "Man was born free but everywhere he is in chains." 

Jesus is directive, authoritarian, commanding, because that was the demented man's need! Different methods are used with different people. The man 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!" There is a recognition that he is in the presence of One who threatens his very existence. In addressing Jesus he uses His personal name. Had he heard it from the lips of the disciples? Or had Jesus' fame already spread into this territory? He calls Him, "Son of the Most High God," a title that implies recognition of Jesus' deity. This is not the first time severely ill people, with little contact with reality, have recognized spiritual truth. 

Jesus now changes approach. No wonder He was called "Wonderful counsellor". ISA 9:6 Jesus looks at the man and quietly says: "What is your name?" That is one of the most fundamentally important questions we can ever ask. Learning a person's name gives to them: identity, dignity, reality! Healing is already occurring! The man replies with honesty: "My name is Legion, for we are many." It was as if he was saying: "My one name? I am so disintergrated, so divided, with so many fractured personalities, how do I know which one is speaking to you now? See these Roman soldiers stationed here? I am as many people as in that legion!" 

This is great therapy! Kindness, personalised care has broken through the illness. Dr Philippe Pinel, one of the great fathers of modern psychotherapy, wrote in his "Moral Treatment of Psychotherapy" in 1793 that we must treat the mentally ill as did Jesus. 

Dr Pinel unchained patients, spoke with kindness, consideration and with reality, and as a result, during the first half of the nineteenth century over 70% of "insane" people were released as cured. But methods changed again and large numbers were once more locked away and recovery was very low. Christian counselling can be a pace-setter!

5. JESUS CLEANSES. V.11-13. 
The herd of pigs grazing nearby was a symbol of uncleanness. The patient need some sign to convince him of his cure. His inner demons were cast into the pigs, which stampeded over the cliff. The patient believed! The pigs were destroyed. There is always a price for human healing. The treatment, "catharsis", inner cleansing, occurs with genuine confession. Many people still live among tombs, the dead remains of the past, but Jesus liberates through inner cleansing. But you may say, "Why did Jesus allow the demons to enter the pigs, an act that ultimately resulted in the destruction of the entire herd?" A question from those concerned about the cost of healing!

6. JESUS CALMS. V. 14-17. 
Jesus had calmed the seas, His fearful disciples, and now this mentally ill man. But his healing disturbs others! They became fearful! We like to pigeon-hole the sick. Many cannot cope with those who have been healed. The pig herders ran to the town and everyone ran to see what had happened. They could scarcely believe their eyes! The man who had been known as "crazy," who had been so violent that he could not even be controlled by chains, they now saw sitting quietly. 

Before he had roamed naked among tombs; now he was "dressed." Before he had been possessed by powerful evil forces; now he was in his "right mind". This man Jesus was beyond their understanding. They pleaded with him to leave. Why? They were afraid. They recognized that a mighty force was at work in Jesus that they could neither understand nor control. Fear, ignorance, and selfishness, because of the material loss of the pigs, dominated their thinking, not compassion for the mentally ill.

The healed man naturally wants to express gratitude by following Jesus closely. "As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed." Healing cannot continue with dependence upon the healer. Healing cannot be complete by escape from familiar surroundings. So it was back to family, friends, and home town to live a normal life, witnessing to Jesus.

The encounters of Jesus with people today can result with us turning from our disintegration and ill-health to find in Him hope and healing. You need to recognize Him as the Son of the Most High God, and put your trust in Him. The result could bring you back into your right mind and to restoration with your family and friends. In Jesus Christ, each of us can be made anew.

Gordon Moyes

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