The Healing of the Gerasene Man
We have a picture book that was given to us when we were getting ready to leave Cambridge. Our daughter was very young and had been picking up on our anxieties around moving. It’s a book about dealing with anxiety. Perhaps the book was given for us. The book is called the Huge Bag of Worries.
In the book a child is chased around by a huge bag of worries. The bag is like a large gym bag. She tries to lock them in a cupboard, she tries to ignore them, but the bag follows her around. In fact at times it feels like it is tied to her ankle, slowing her down and tiring her out. She thinks about talking to her parents, but they seem to have so many worries of their own. Or she thinks they wouldn’t believe she has anything to worry about. Her brother and her friends claim to have no worries themselves (though if you look closely you can see they too are hiding their own bags of worries). The whole time her bag keeps getting bigger and bigger.
Eventually she feels completely lost and alone – with no idea how she is going to deal with this bag. Then the nice lady from next door spots her sitting on a wall with her bag of worries and comes to speak to her. At first, when the neighbour starts to open the bag to see what is inside, the girl tells her not to, because all those worries will look so awful. ‘Nonsense’ the neighbour says, ‘whenever you have a worry you need to take it out, name it and show it to somebody else. The last thing a worry wants is to see the light of day’ Many of the worries disappear, some the neighbour sends packing – because they belong to somebody else, and some she offers to deal with. The last couple, which are the sorts of worries we all have to deal with, were much more manageable to the girl. Getting them out in the open made all the difference.
Today’s Gospel is full of useful imagery Luke highlights it to get the underlying point of the message across. It starts in the land of the Gerasenes. The first man Jesus meets when he arrives is this man described as having demons.
He is clearly very sick – possibly suffering from a mental illness. He is exposed, living outside of town in a tomb,
often chained and shackled. He is oppressed and powerless – cast out by his people. He immediately recognises Jesus for who he really is. And Jesus asks him his name. The answer – Legion – for us today is synonymous with horror films which base themselves on this rather disturbing narrative.
But in the day there is no doubt that people hearing this story when it was first put to paper would have associated it with the oppressive legions of the Roman army – there is a record from a Jewish historian of a slaughter by Roman soldiers in the country of the Gerasenes – so perhaps it is that kind of brutal oppression which torments this man.
Perhaps it is a huge bag of things which play on his mind.
Anxieties which need to be named and brought out into the light of day. So that they lose their hold over him. Perhaps he simply needed to be heard. And then these worries would simply vanish, or run away, even be drowned by the overflowing of love which Jesus extends simply by treating this man as a person worth listening to.
Naming things can be such an important part of dealing with them. Leading Children’s day camps as a youth I learned the importance of knowing the children’s names when you needed them to listen to you. Calling ‘come here’ has much less effect than: ‘Solomon come here.’ Anybody waiting for a diagnosis, or struggling with an illness will know how much of a relief there is when the condition can be named – even if there isn’t a cure – somehow it becomes recognised, as do it’s impacts. Of course not all anxieties go away simply by naming them, just like not all illnesses have a cure. Sometimes we can be too scared of being judged to share our worries with another. Worried that something we have done is so horrible, and what might happen – but finding somebody to name it to – even if it is only to God – can be such a relief. This is where I think confessions can be so healing – not necessarily to a priest, but to somebody who can say ‘you are ok’ or even ‘you are forgiven’.
Once the man has been healed the townsfolk come out to find this outcast sat next to Jesus, fully clothed in his right mind. Being clothed and seated are symbols for him being in authority over himself again – no longer overwhelmed or oppressed. And he is in right mind – right relationship, with himself, and right relationship with God. No longer is he defined by what tormented him. Now he is defined by his relationship with Christ.
A couple of years ago the press discovered that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby’s father was not the person he thought it was. The press was keen to make this into a big thing and see how the Archbishop would respond.
I heard him speak about how he had found out hours before and how his press team were circling round to advise him and he said simply, ‘first and foremost my identity is that I am a follower of Christ, who my father is, well that is secondary.’ So it became for this Gerasene man.
In a way everything gets turned on its head and the townsfolk don’t like it – the one who was outside the city, the one who was the outcast, is now the one sitting with Jesus in right relationship with God.
Jesus sends out the disciples and us, to offer healing – to name the ills and problems in our society – so that they can be transformed. Helping others to find healing by listening to them. It turns things on its head and can be destabilising
but brings us in relationship with the God who declares the last will be first and the servant will be the master. And a baby boy will lead us into eternal life.
The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams
8.00am Said Eucharist in the lady chapel
10.00am Parish Eucharist with choir and Sunday School
Said Eucharist on Wednesdays at 11.00am
Monday through Thursday at 5.30pm
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