Casting out the devils - St Bride's: Reflection

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Casting out the devils

Luke 8: 26-39

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26 And they arrived at the country of the Gadarenes, which is over against Galilee.

27 And when he went forth to land, there met him out of the city a certain man, which had devils long time, and ware no clothes, neither abode in any house, but in the tombs.

28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out, and fell down before him, and with a loud voice said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I beseech thee, torment me not.

29 (For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For oftentimes it had caught him: and he was kept bound with chains and in fetters; and he brake the bands, and was driven of the devil into the wilderness.)

30 And Jesus asked him, saying, What is thy name? And he said, Legion: because many devils were entered into him.

31 And they besought him that he would not command them to go out into the deep.

32 And there was there an herd of many swine feeding on the mountain: and they besought him that he would suffer them to enter into them. And he suffered them.

33 Then went the devils out of the man, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the lake, and were choked.

34 When they that fed them saw what was done, they fled, and went and told it in the city and in the country.

35 Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid.

36 They also which saw it told them by what means he that was possessed of the devils was healed.

37 Then the whole multitude of the country of the Gadarenes round about besought him to depart from them; for they were taken with great fear: and he went up into the ship, and returned back again.

38 Now the man out of whom the devils were departed besought him that he might be with him: but Jesus sent him away, saying,

39 Return to thine own house, and shew how great things God hath done unto thee. And he went his way, and published throughout the whole city how great things Jesus had done unto him.

Casting out the devils
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When we visited Pergamum in Turkey on our parish pilgrimage we saw the remains of the Asclepium, the medical centre for the city and the area. It was a fascinating site, and we were shown the incubation rooms where patients lay on skins or on the ground and hoped, by being close to the gods of the earth and the underworld, that they would wake up healed. Under the central square, a long tunnel. Apparently patients were ushered through this tunnel while priests above whispered words of encouragement and healing. A cool, refreshing breeze still blows through it offering relief from the sweltering summer sun. Galen, the famous doctor and anatomist, was born in Pergamum and practiced medicine in the Asclepium and he made it a world famous medical centre.

It's clear that a lot of the so-called remedies were bogus and that a good deal of medical quackery was practised there. St Paul certainly didn't approve, and indeed, because of the quackery, there was a high degree of cynicism in the ancient world about medicine, doctors and healers: and almost nothing was known about nervous and mental diseases. That's one of the reasons Jesus made such an impact.
Jesus was a pioneer in the area of mental illness, seeing people holistically, and understanding the ways in which the mind, the emotions and the physical body are all inter-related. In the Gospel today, we heard the story of how Jesus heals a man with many demons. We would probably diagnose him today as a paranoid schizophrenic. Maybe he had been driven out of his mind witnessing the frightful atrocities of the Roman occupying forces in Galilee 20 years before. Whatever the reason, his life, his personality, had disintegrated and he was living rough among the tombs.

To use psychotherapeutic jargon his lack of an integrated self was driving him mad. He was being pulled in numerous directions by the forces within him which were Legion; there was no centre to his life.
Jesus spectacularly drives out his demons and becomes that centre point. Legion becomes one, he becomes an integrated person, made whole. And we last see him sitting at Jesus' feet 'clothed and in his right mind' - calm, integrated, at peace with himself.

This theme of personal human integrity is echoed in the Epistle from Galatians where Paul talks about our baptism as the act of being 'clothed in Christ.' And Paul goes on to say that because Christ is our centre, we have no need to be prickly and competitive with one another, no need for self-promotion, because we all belong to Christ and are therefore related to each other as members of the Christian family.
This metaphor of 'putting on Christ' or 'being clothed with Christ' was taken literally in early church baptisms. We saw in Turkey on our travels at least two baptistries for baptism by total immersion. You would enter the water almost naked, go right under the water and climb up the steps the other side, be clothed with a white garment, symbol of your new life and be welcomed into the congregation. The symbolism was powerful - the clothing was powerfully symbolic. Clothes are what we wear in our daily lives: they are part of who we are and how we express ourselves.
So, for the demoniac to be 'clothed and in his right mind' is an expression of his new identity. Putting on Christ at baptism is an expression of new identity and of our calling to live in Christ, to live Christian lives.

Whereas much of ancient medicine was a con trick, using drugs and auto suggestion, as we saw at the Asclepion, Jesus spoke directly to people's inner selves, calling people away from self-absorption towards God's life and love and powerfully addressing their fractured personalities and challenging their moral values. He taught that wholeness is a process of integration, going beyond the self and moving the centre of our lives to the larger focus of God's love.

That was something radically new and different from the crude and dubious medical practices of the time. That's one of the reasons Jesus' ministry had such a powerful impact: this is not to deny the miraculous element which was certainly there: we may reclassify the demoniac as a paranoid schizophrenic, but we are still faced with the fact that he was cured, 'clothed and in his right mind.' Somehow, Jesus makes a huge difference to his life and gives him the ability to become a re-integrated person. That sense of personal integration is what we all seek: it's what the spiritual journey is all about: being set free from the forces that push us in competing directions, and slowly, over time, being changed , so that we too become 'clothed with Christ, and in our right mind.'

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