From the fall of the human being into sin, illness has plagued this world. There is much conversation today about our physical ailments Ð heart disease, cancer, respiratory illnesses, nerve disorders, and hundreds of others. In Biblical days, the medical profession was not as sophisticated in giving names to these illnesses, and the treatment of them was inadequate.
There are also the mental illnesses. It is strange that, even in our day, many people cannot comprehend mental illness as a real physical disorder. If they have stomach problems, people accept it and get medical assistance. However, if the brain does not function normally, and there are nerve disorders, we are embarrassed and feel this should not happen. We tell the mental patient to “snap out of it.” This makes the person feel guilty and he or she says, “I do not know what is the matter with me. I should be able to shake these awful feelings.”
Psychologists have put names on mental illnesses such as paranoia, schizophrenia, manic-depressive, and a host of others. In Jesus’ day, mental illness was called demon possession, and the treatment was to isolate these sick people from society. Much of this same treatment was used in the 20th century. Ride by some of these state hospitals and you will hear older people say, “This was once the insane asylum.”
In our text we read about Jesus healing a man who was demon possessed. He refused to wear clothes and chose to live in the tombs rather than a house. He was chained and guarded, but his strength was so great that he broke the chains and ran from the guards. When Jesus stepped ashore in the region of the Gerasenes, having crossed the Sea of Galilee, the demon-possessed man shouted, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” Jesus then commanded the evil spirits to come out of him. Then something strange happened, and I quote: “A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into them, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned” (32-33).
Many of us do not understand the meaning of this today, nor did the Gerasenes. When they came to the place where the miracle had been performed, they were afraid. The man who had been mentally ill was sitting at Jesus’ feet. He was clothed and perfectly normal. No longer did he need to be chained or watched by guards.
It was in this setting that the Bible says, “All the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left. Can you believe it? Instead of thanking God for healing this mentally sick man, they asked the Healer to leave. Perhaps some were thinking about the financial loss of the swine. Hardly could one man be worth that much money. Everything was going all right. Why these drastic changes? There were many weird stories, but to date he had hurt no one. They wondered what other changes Jesus might make if He stayed in their region, so they would feel much more comfortable if He were gone.
Jesus did not resist their request. He went. This teaches us that Jesus will not force Himself on anyone. His desire is to make great changes in the lives of all people. However, if we do not want these changes to take place in our lives, He will leave us alone. The human being is still free to say no to God. The tragedy is that we all do say no to God’s making changes in our lives in one way or another.
Most people want to claim some kind of religion, but they do not want a relationship with Jesus that is personal. Religion under control will never affect you. Let Christ into your life and you become, in the words of St. Paul, “a new creation.” Christians who have been converted to Christ relate stories of how their friends and relatives treated them after their conversion. Some go as far as to say, “We liked John better before he became a Christian.” What are some of these changes that Christ makes?
1. When Jesus takes control of my life, it changes my lifestyle. The religious person, who would praise God in church on Sunday and curse him in the business world on Monday, has changed. The father, who was concerned only about his own pleasures, is now focused on caring for his children. The person, who was growing wealthier by the day, begins to ask himself and his partners, “While our dealings are legal, are they honest?” The person who lived an immoral life gets a new set of values when she realizes that sexual activity is limited to the married state.
These changes are bothersome to old buddies, and they say, “If Jesus made these changes in our friend’s life, let’s not get too close to Him, lest more of us lose the fun of living. We want to be in control of our own lives.”
2. Jesus introduces us to who we are. Society tells us that we are great people and points out all the good things we do. Jesus rejoices over our philanthropy, but also reminds us that by nature we are sinful and need to be “born again.” Remember His strong statement, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” I do not just need to be moralized. I need to be redeemed, and Christ alone can redeem me. When Peter denied Christ, the Savior said, “Now you have met your sinful self. You know how weak you are.” When Judas betrayed Him, Jesus said, “Now you know who your real god is Ð money.” When Thomas doubted Jesus, the Lord showed this disciple how weak his faith was. Peter, Judas, and Thomas did not like those introductions to themselves, and neither do we. It was better the other way when we had a good opinion of who we were. Perhaps asking Jesus to leave would be better before we get too negative in our thinking about our own person.
3. Jesus will rearrange our values. The material possessions of life are high on the average person’s list of values. What is my net worth? How many square feet are there in my house? What kind of automobile do I drive? What prestigious college do my children attend? Where will we spend our next vacation Ð the Bahamas in the winter or Lake Placid in the summer? What clubs should I join? Where should I play golf? What kind of people will be my closest friends? There is nothing wrong with any of these items, but do they get top priority in our lives?
Then Jesus comes into my life. The values are rearranged. It is not my net worth that is most important, but how I use my wealth. It is not the size of my house, but is it a dwelling where Christ is Lord and the children are being introduced to Jesus Christ by God-fearing parents. It is not what kind of impression am I making in society by the car I drive, the college my children attend, the clubs to which I belong, the places I vacation, but is my life lived out in a way that is pleasing to God.
When you see people’s values change like that, some friends and relatives get afraid, and they do not want to get too close to this Jesus who might change them also, so they do not want Him around. Religion, yes Ð Jesus, no. “Go away, Jesus. I like my religious life the way it is. It is on my terms. Religion never changes anything in my life, and yet I can present myself as a God-fearing person.” How tragic when the One who can give us the abundant life is asked to leave! But leave He will if that is our desire, for He never forces Himself on us.
While the Gerasenes were asking Jesus to leave them, the healed man begged to go with Jesus, but the Lord denied his request. “ÔReturn home and tell how much God has done for you.’ So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him” (39).
When some people hear Jesus say, “Come, follow me,” they enter the seminary and serve Christ as ordained servants in His Church. More often, Jesus says, “Go home and live out your faith among your family and friends. Tell them what I have done for you.” One calling is as important as the other. You are not more of a servant of Christ standing in the pulpit than walking in the business world.
It was Paul who wrote, “If anyone is in Christ, he (or she) is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come” (II Corinthians 5:17). If you do not want your life to change, resist Jesus Christ. The Gerasenes had learned this to be true, and they were absolutely right. However, if you are spiritually sick and want to be healed, turn to Christ. He will make you spiritually healthy. Where Jesus lives, changes are being made that draw us closer to God.