I am not sure if you know what Nutella is. It is an Italian hazelnut chocolate spread that, for those who like it find it absolutely delicious and irresistible. You can spread it on bread, or if you are especially greedy, you can take spoonfuls of out it out of the jar when no-one is watching. As recently as last week a French superstore reduced the price of Nutella by 70%. It is reported that throughout France there was riots in these stores as people tried to get hold of the discounted items. Hair was pulled, people were cut as they fought to get hold of the jars, people had black eyes, police had to be called the stores to maintain order.
It seems utter madness. People seem to have lost their senses on these occasions. You can see that kind of behaviour on days like Black Friday. People lose their sense of reason, act irrationally, it is as if they have lost their mind.
In today’s Gospel we hear of a man who has lost his mind. This man is in the synagogue and meets Jesus. The Gospel tells us that he has a demon in him. But in our 21st century mind we realise that this is probably not possession but a person who has lost his mind, uncontrollably calls out, who frightens everyone by his ramblings, his violent behaviour, his total lack of control. These seem to be classic symptoms of someone who is suffering from some sort of illness of the mind.
It is clear that for everyone this is a terrifying sight. In the rest of the Gospel we will hear of other people who suffer from illnesses of the mind. People who do harm to themselves, people who are tied down by their family members, people who are forced to live outside towns and villages because they frighten people, people who call out and howl like wild animals, people who are fearful sights.
To the people of the bible these are frightening people who seem to be possessed by an unclean or evil spirit. To our 21 century mind these are not demoniac possessions but illnesses of the mind that are still as fearful when we see their symptoms. But we live in times in which we understand the mind better in ways in which we never understood it. There are treatments and medicines, there are ways of tracking these things and helping people & understanding people.
In the bible this man represents a man who suffers greatly. No one can help him. He is probably excluded from his family and from the community. People are probably afraid of him, his demented screams, his flailing limbs, his uncontrolled actions – they fear he will do himself harm or others.
The New Testament represents sickness and possession as being in a prison, people being caged. The New Testament represents Jesus as setting people free from illness and possession. No illness is too great for him not to cure people. No devil or devils too great that Jesus cannot cast them out. Jesus sets people free from prisons of illness, possession, customs, practices, false ways of thinking, lying, deceit, anger, violence and jealousies.
Jesus is interested in us being free. He is interested in us not being tied down or trapped. He is interested in the body and mind and mind and spirit being set free for us to fly high.
What a great thing that is to remind us. We are all, in a sense, like the man in the Gospel, caged and imprisoned, but we are all to set free. The message that we hear is a liberating message, a message that sets us free to fly high, to be a child of God.
That sense of nothing that can weigh us down, nothing can hold us back, nothing can lock away or imprison is, that feeling that nothing can get us down, is what we are invited to travel through life with. A message that is wind our wings, that pushes us upward and onwards. Its an optimistic message.