A MAD MAN AND PIGS
1 Kings 19:1-4,8-15, Psalm 42&43, Luke 8:26-39
June 21, 1998 by Tad Mitsui
I was the coordinator of famine relief in Africa during the 80”s for the World Council of Churches. As soon as starving people arrived at the relief camp, they all went to the reception centre first. There a team of doctors and nurses made quick decisions about the condition of the new arrival. People who were in most serious condition received attention first, of course. They were carried to a feeding tent and the attendants gave them sugar water and easy-to-digest biscuits. They were under constant supervision to make sure that they received proper nourishment. People, who looked relatively fit, were given a sack of food each, and were told to go home after registration. But the persons who were too far gone and beyond any hope of recovery were carried into another tent and were laid down on a bare tarp. The staff people gave them biscuits and went away. But most of them did not even have strength to lift the biscuits to their mouths. They were basically left there to die. Life is cheap when you are poor. Most relief agencies did not have enough money for extra staff to give intensive care nor palliative care to the hopeless cases. Even a decade afterward, the sight of those people who were left to die haunts me.
We all know that people live longer in the rich countries than in the poor countries, because health care cost money. We are fortunate to live in a country where health care is available to any person, rich or poor. Not only is our country wealthy, but also we have a system to share the cost of health care. It is not always like that in other countries. Even in a rich country like the U.S, many people do not have access to medical care because of cost. I think it is terrible to have to deny someone care, because some one does not have money.
What is the price of human life? The story in today”s Gospel deals with this difficult question. The question becomes even more difficult when the person in question seems abnormal. Would you cure a mad man at the cost of two thousand pigs? Jesus refused to put a price tag on a human being, and believed that all available wealth must be shared to restore the wholeness of even one person. But obviously the owner of those pigs didn”t agree. He must have been an enormously wealthy person. When he discovered that his pigs were drowned to heal a mad man, he was very upset. He asked the authorities to throw Jesus out of the city.
It happened on the East side of the lake Galilee where people were not Jewish. When Jesus and his disciples reached the shore, a man who was possessed by many demons met him. The demons did not mention their names when Jesus asked them to identify themselves. Instead they told him how many of them there were. They said they were a "legion". Legion is a Roman terminology for a division of six thousand foot soldiers. This sick man was possessed by many demons, six thousand of them. I suppose one could say that in today”s terms he had suffered from schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder.
The demons could see who Jesus was and what kind of power he possessed. They called him the "Son of God of the most high." Perhaps one of the outcomes of this man”s schizophrenia was that it made him more sensitive to what is hidden and not obvious on the surface in people. Even in the land of Gentiles where people had no notion of Messiah, this man could sense spiritual quality in Jesus. But what a sad condition he had to live in! He lived in a grave yard among the tomb stones; among the dead. He was not a member of the community of the living. He was stripped of any dignity; he wore no clothes. Nobody trusted him. So he was chained and fettered. Until recently, we too used to incarcerate schizophrenic people like prisoners. It must have been an unbearable situation for an extra sensitive person. He must have been living in a perpetual state of rage. No wonder he repeatedly broke chains and fetters, in rage!
In order to heal him and bring him back into the community of the living, Jesus ordered the demons to go into the pigs. According to the accounts of the same story in other Gospels, there were two thousand pigs. It was a great financial loss for the owner of the pigs when they drowned. We really don”t know what exactly happened. But it is important for us to think of the reason why the writers of the Gospels decided to select this particular story and to include it in the Bible. I believe that the point is; the value of human being can not be measured with numbers and cost.
This man had a severe mental condition. A legion of demons sounds like an enormous psychological problem. It had taken two thousand pigs to get rid of all the demons that possessed him. A very expensive psychiatric treatment indeed. Unfortunately, in our normal way of calculating costs and benefits, if a problem is too costly to repair, we say we cut the cost and let the problem take its course. That is what we did at the feeding camps in Ethiopia. We could not afford the cost of looking after dying people. But that was not the way of Jesus Christ. Jesus was saying to us in this story, "A human being is worth any cost, and the community should share the cost."
Another important point of the story is in the last part of the story. The man who was healed asked Jesus if he could be a disciple and follow him. But Jesus said, "Go home and tell others what God has done." Healing is not complete until a person is restored fully into a community. The worst thing that happened to the man who lived among the tomb stones was alienation from the community of the living. We all get sick sometime. We all age, and eventually die. But that is all part of life, and that is not the ultimate mortal problem. But falling out from community is not what God wants. Separation is a serious damnation. Healing is not complete until relationship is restored.
On this day to celebrate the 70th anniversary, let us give thanks to God who in his grace has thus far sustained this community of caring at Howick United Church. Let us affirm one basic article of faith that we, the church, are a community of people who always put people first; before the building, before the money, before anything else we may be very proud of. When we acknowledge this and truly love one another, as Christ told us, we have a community of believers that gives us the wholeness of our being. And that means true health.