Mark 5:1-5

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. Mark 5:1-5

He must have an unclean spirit. How else do we explain it? Look at the things he does. He is out of control. He is a danger to himself and to others. Just think of the children! We need to get him out of town. Let’s chain him out among the tombs where no one else wants to go. Out of sight. Out of mind. Problem solved.

In their desire for their own safety, they didn’t stop to think about his safety. He was a danger. Especially to himself. Can you see his suffering? Can you feel his shame?

Some people read this text and they think about the various homeless characters they see asking for money at street corners. Or pushing shopping carts filled with treasures down sidewalks. Or camped out under bridges. I see my extended family. I see my mom. My aunt. My sister. My son. My daughter. Me.

We have come a long way in destigmatizing some forms of sickness. But others? Other forms still carry, in addition to the suffering of the illness, the added weight of cultural shame. There is no shame to many forms of cancer – except those people think they can trace back to “lifestyle choices.” No shame in diabetes – except when the person suffering from wounds that won’t heal is seriously overweight. It isn’t fair and it isn’t helpful but it’s there.

Sadly, there is no mental illness or addictive illness without shame. But there are many voices trying to turn that around.

Today is World Mental Health Day. This is an opportunity to lift up the real suffering that real people experience because their illness happens to involve chemicals in their brains and maladaptive responses to survive. I am grateful to know that many voices are being heard in the face of the terrifying statistics around suicide, overdoses, and the increasing dangers of new substances that change the way that people feel.

Can you see the man among the tombs? Can you see his scars and open wounds? Can you hear his cries? Jesus did.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, your children are suffering. They need help. They need care. They need treatment and ongoing support. We pray today that you work through the skills of mental health care providers to bring hope and recovery to those who suffer. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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