Copyright © 2011 by Chris R.Glaser. All rights reserved.
The people of Jesus’ time assigned behavior or ailments they did not understand to demons inhabiting the individual. Any of us who have witnessed a friend in the throes of severe suffering, chronic pain, addiction, or mental or physical illness can understand how these things may so transform a person as to seem possessed. Naming the demon is the beginning of compassion, and possibly, cure.
We would not stop at naming a disease, but try to provide treatment. So, to stop at simply naming a disorder or dysfunction and using it as an excuse for bad behavior or an occasion for getting on Dr. Phil, makes us enablers. Cultural anthropologist Rene Girard writes, “Possession is not an individual phenomenon..[it] is always contagious; those who are [so affected] are likely to communicate their desire to you, or in other words, drag you along their same path…” As Dr. Phil would ask, “How’s that workin’ for ya?”
Jesus might as well have been working with an addicted family member, a dysfunctional congregation, the Washington quagmire, or the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate when he confronted the Gerasene demoniac’s “Legion”—a hostile army of demons that caused its victim to live naked among the tombs, exiling himself and stoning himself, the standard punishments (Girard points out) of Middle Eastern societies.
The Greek word for devil in the New Testament is “diabolos,” which means “divider” or “adversary.” I believe that “discerning the spirits” empowers us to name and cast out divisiveness, but not diversity, even of points of view. According to Girard, the demoniac was a convenient scapegoat for the Gerasenes, reflecting their own dysfunctionality. Jesus casts the demons into a herd of pigs which runs off a cliff into a lake to drown, another style of execution. His fellow villagers find the formerly possessed man at the feet of Jesus, “clothed and in his right mind” and they are afraid, and ask Jesus to leave their community.
Who exorcises demons in our world today? Whistle-blowers. Prophets. Mediators. Systems analysts. Interim pastors. Therapists. Spiritual directors. 12-Step sponsors. Soul friends. Researchers. Scientists. Journalists. And more.
In our own divisiveness and dysfunctionality, Christians may take comfort as well as challenge in these words from the epistle to the Galatians, “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” May we become “clothed in Christ” and in our right minds.