They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won't torture me!" For Jesus had said to him, "Come out of this man, you evil spirit!"
Mark 5:1-8 NIV
Its 2008, we are in the middle of recession and it's budget time in the state of California.
One of the things frequently placed upon the chopping block in situations like this is funding for mental health services. Although this doesn't directly affect my employment, it does directly affect the population with whom I work. Last year I got to witness first-hand the dismantling of a nationally recognized program that assisted the homeless mentally ill population of our community. Several of these people subsequently had negative involvement with law enforcement and the program I work in inherited them.
These people need other people to assist them, at least for a couple of years, in making a workable way of life for themselves. They have real “demons” that need exorcising before they can live a life most people consider normal: having a stable residence where they feel safe to sleep at night and to keep their possessions, having a job that gives them sense of contributing to the world they live in, a caring community of people that don't try to take advantage of them, a sense of wellness that comes from regular meals and the ability to keep up basic hygiene.
In the absence of the assistance that the social services agencies that are being cut provide many of these people will continue to self medicate with illicit drugs, will steal to survive, or to get drunk or high, will live in the small forgotten places of the Empire, and will engage in behaviors that at best we will consider to be bizarre, and at worst will put themselves or others in danger.
We will respond in the only way we will have left. We will incarcerate them. They will be “chained hand and foot”, and they will eventually be released. Then they will go back to living “among the tombs and among the hills” and they will be even more broken than before, and the whole process will begin again.
Now, I don't want to create the impression that I only believe in a metaphorical interpretation of the Gospel, that the only thing we can learn from the story above is compassion. I believe that Jesus was God incarnate. I believe that the story above, or something similar to it, probably actually happened. I think that we all need the love of God that Jesus offers to us. I also believe that we must do what Jesus did. We must seek out the broken and reach out to them in compassion. We must heal the world around us, like Jesus did.
God, teach us that are strong and affluent to suffer, rather than balance our budget on the weak and the broken.