In which Jesus meets a man who is described as having an unclean spirit. He is violent, he self harms (cuts himself with stones), and he is excluded from society (or has excluded himself).
There are different ways to look at passages like this in the Gospels. Some would see this as an example of ‘demon possession,’ while others would see here a man with a severe mental illness. There can be a great divide between these two ways of understanding.
At one end of the spectrum there are churches that practise a deliverance ministry where almost anything can be ascribed to the work of evil spirits. (Someone with a short temper can be described as having ‘a spirit of anger’ that needs to be cast out). At the other end of the spectrum are Christians who would say that talk about evil spirits is superstition, and we should look for scientific ways to explain illness, and look to modern medicine for treatment.
What I find especially interesting (and we miss it if we get hung up on arguments about modern medicine versus prayer for healing) is that in the gospels, Jesus addresses all kinds of illness, with a variety of causes. Jesus seems to have a holistic approach that recognises body, mind and spirit. When we get into arguments about the nature of the illness, we risk missing the fact that the Jesus of the gospels heals people who are afflicted in body, others who are afflicted in mind, and others who are afflicted in spirit. What this says to me is that Jesus’ healing is comprehensive. There is no aspect of human suffering that is outside the scope of the healing of Jesus.
A prayer that we use for healing goes something like this … “Name of person we lay our hands on you in the name of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We pray that you may know God’s healing power at work in you – bringing wholeness and healing to every part of you, body mind and spirit.”