Lent: Mad men

When Jesus was getting out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit quickly ran to him from the graveyard where he had been living.

Healing of Gerasene demoniac, C. Malcolm Powers

Healing of the Gerasene demoniac, C. Malcolm Powers, bronze

Mark 5:1-20

Forced into lonely places

I recently worked with a 16 year old boy whose behaviour appeared to be beyond control. Years of neglect had deeply embedded a sense of worthlessness and insecurity, which resulted in rebellion, aggression and chaos. He heavily misused drugs and alcohol, was sometimes violent, had little respect for authority and would regularly go missing from home. Many professionals had tried working with him and their failure to make progress served to reinforce his beliefs that he could not change and was beyond help.

The man Jesus encountered after crossing the Lake of Galilee was in a similar predicament*. The evil spirits within him led to extreme behaviour which could not be contained by human endeavour. He was naked and vicious, he self-harmed, broke even the strongest chains that bound him and was 'forced into lonely places'. He roamed the graveyards and the local people were terrified as it seemed that there was nothing that could be done.

Until Jesus came.

We just sat in silence

Within seconds, Jesus saw past the behavioural symptoms and identified the root of the problem. He saw a man who was controlled by all that was dark and destructive. Jesus was not afraid of the man and did not turn from him, but demonstrated his love and grace. Using both his spiritual authority and the physical resources that were at hand, Jesus commanded freedom for the man and ensured that the evil spirits would not return.

We can easily become consumed and then frustrated/disillusioned by the things which are in fact just outward manifestations of inner brokenness. Often this happens because we rely solely on our human capabilities which are unable to go beyond the superficial. Only God can do the deeper, longer-lasting work. After I prayed for love and insight in regard to the 16 year old boy, I found myself holding back on trying to fix the behavioural things at the next session I had with him and instead we just sat in silence. In peace. And gradually he began to realise that I was for and not against him, a first step towards accepting who God had made him to be.

Questions

  • Are there situations in our lives or others' where we focus on the symptoms rather than the root cause? How might God be asking you to respond?
  • Who might we pray for to find freedom from what is dark and destructive?
  • What resources do we have in our hands that God might be asking us to use to help do his work?

Liz Murphy, Student Social Worker

*NB: This is not to say the boy I worked with was possessed by evil spirits. The comparison is in relation to inner turmoil leading to destructive, uncontrollable behaviour.