The man was mentally ill and his family and his community didn’t know what to do with him. They didn’t know how to help him. They didn’t understand because there was no bone to set that was clearly broken or lump on his head they could just cut off. Illnesses of the mind were overwhelming in the first century and many of them still are in the 21st century, leaving families and communities unsure of what to do with those they love, they find themselves casting them out to the margins of society.
Part of me wonders why he didn’t wander off? It doesn’t say that those in his community brought him food, but I have to imagine that they did. They had tried multiple ways to keep him there, so they would know where he was, out of both fear and compassion. They didn’t want to lose him like other families whose loved ones had disappeared and who most likely died at the hands of those who didn’t care about them or all alone. Maybe he stayed because he knew that even though he was an outsider on the margin of his community they still wanted healing to come for him.
When Jesus came and healed the man living in the cave, healing came to the man and to the whole community. The saying is true, if one person is suffering then we all are suffering. If one person is oppressed than we are all oppressed. If we are missing someone in the community, than both that person and the community as a whole is broken. In all of the stories in which Jesus heals someone, the healing does not simply impact the one, but it impacts the entire community. Those who usually reside in the center of communities and of power, need to realize that their lives are intertwined directly with those who are cast out. There really is no such thing as “Out of sight out of mind.” Even if you don’t want to acknowledge it, we are connected to those at the margins. The questions is, “Will we take the actions needed to be in scared, yet whole, community with them?”
Go back to last week’s Lenten reflection to understand what I mean. Do we have the will needed to put resources toward creating spaces in our community for those who struggle with chronic mental health issues? Instead of blaming them for being ill, seeing their illness as a weakness, or even as punishment from God, let’s face that fact that all of us will be ill at some point or some points in our lives. Our collective call is to have compassion for each other, to see each other’s full humanity – even when our minds and/or bodies start to breakdown, and do what we can do ease each other’s suffering.
Paul Wellstone is known for saying, “We all do better when we all do better.” He is not saying, we all do better when we all are perfect. He is calling us to see that from the margins to the middle our lives are fully intertwined, our wellbeing is integrated, and when we stop protecting the few and open our vision to what we can do for all, we will all do better and we all will be better.
You may not know it and you may not want it to be, but you are already in community with those at the margin. What can happen if you let that piece of knowledge impact your life?