Wednesday, January 28, 2009

4th Sunday of the Year

He gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him!

I think mental illness has always scared people. How many horror stories there are about insane murderers and killers. In years gone by the insane were locked away, and their shrieks and cries in the Bethlehem hospital in London even led to the coining of the word ‘Bedlam’. Even in our own, so enlightened days, there is some shame in mental illness and fear of those who are schizophrenic or bipolar, or just, as people would say ‘nutters’.

And yet, we are told, mental illness is extremely common. Most people, at some time in their lives, suffer from Stress, or irrational anxiety, or depression. Many people at the end their lives suffer from mild or acute dementia. And most of us, probably all us, know someone who had a more severe mental illness.

Nowadays we treat all but the most severe in the community - or we say we do. There is no Bedlam Hospital today. Unlike the Victorians who it away, for us Community care is everything. It was the same in Jesus’ day. Mental illness was poorly understood. They thought these were demons, unclean spirits, possessions. But in doing this they recognised that the person is not the illness. They feared the illness, but loved the person who was afflicted. They were all someone’s son, or daughter, husband or wife. They didn’t tell the mentally ill that they should pull themselves together. All too often we do that. And lock the mentally ill away not in hospitals, but in prisons. Let us not suppose that we are so very much better than they were.

And Jesus, when he meets these people, he heals them. He speaks sharply to the illness, but treats the afflicted with compassion. He does not avoid them, or shuns them, but he stand before them, with confidence, with authority. This is a new teaching because it brings hope to those who were losing hope. It proclaims healing to those who did not known they could be healed. Jesus casts out fear, because he teaches that true healing is not just of body, but is of body and soul. He comes to save all who dwell in darkness, of pain, of sin, of suffering.

This is the miracle. A real miracle. A healing that takes us out of the blind alleys of human fear and misunderstanding. Here is a teaching that is new.

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