If you have struggled, or know and love someone who has struggled with mental illness, then you know the emotions that must have swirled around the life of the Gerasene "man of the tombs." You can call his struggles demonic possession, or perhaps they were a schizophrenic attack...or a psychotic break...or an episode of mania with which people with bipolar disorder often travail. In any event, in him we see the isolation from "polite" society that people with mental illness face. We see the stigma and fear that hang around him in a miasmic cloud. We note his only place of habitation left is in and amongst the dead. He is unclean, exiled, lost on so many levels that one loses count. Small wonder that when Jesus challenges that component of him that is the cause of all of this mess that it claims the name "Legion." There is so much madness there, so many facets, that we can admit that name is as apt as any other.
And our reaction to him? We know the same fear and revulsion. This sort of brokenness is far beyond anything we have seen yet. It is terminal madness. He is the walking dead, the one whose mind is murdered, whose rational self is now victim to his torment. He is naked, filthy, abhorrent. What do we want to do?
Cross the street to avoid him.
Turn and walk the other way.
Shield our children's, and perhaps our own eye and ears from hearing and seeing him.
Put him far away from us, in a place where "someone" can "help" him.
Jesus takes another path. He engages the man. His exorcism is more than just an expulsion of demons into a herd of pigs. In so many ways, it is more than "just" a miracle. Why? Because at the end of this whole experience, one that we all share, an intimate and personal healing is accomplished: the man is found, fully clothed and clean, in his right mind.
That's our prayer, isn't it, that people we know and love (and sometimes the person who looks back at us from the mirror in the morning) be restored, be made whole. This is more than a repair of the self. This is a making new of that which has become frayed, stained, lost...that has died...in us. Jesus accomplishes this grace in our midst. He forges that healing in the person of the demoniac, he notes it in the woman with the issue of blood and he calls on a little, dead girl to wake up. In all these things, he overcomes both the perceived losses caused by stigma and the very real destruction that chronic illness (mental and physical) and death itself can wreak in our lives.
In Christ, madness is overcome and put to flight.