People on life’s journey, at times, find themselves in adverse
conditions. Adversity is something over which we seldom have any control – if we did we wouldn’t be in these conditions. Compromised health, both physical and mental, is among those situations that can be classed as uncontrollable adversity. Some of these adverse health concerns are, in our society, more acceptable than others. Some of these conditions carry a social stigma.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus tells of a man who fell into adversity, a situation that he neither deserved nor could control. To make it worse, his situation seems to be socially unacceptable. It may be because he looks to be possibly dead, and in Judaism contact with the dead renders a person ritually impure – an important concern for religious leaders. It could be that his state makes the passers-by fearful that the same may happen to them, and so they speed up their own journeys, stopping for nothing. And it could be simply that this naked, beat-up guy by the side of the road is an embarrassment, and it’s easier to choose not to deal with him.
As the story unfolds, one would assume that the next two characters would come to the man’s aid. But they not only pass on by, but they cross the road. Had they at least checked out our traveler, they would see he was not dead and their fear of becoming impure was unfounded. But instead they quickly go on their way.
Then along comes a third traveler – a Samaritan. From a Jewish point of view, in the time of Jesus, Samaritans are not good guys. Being a Samaritan carried an even greater stigma than being a gentile. The third opportunity to perform a mitzpha falls to this socially unacceptable outsider and he embraces it.
As the Mental Health Committee of the Diocese of Virginia we are called by Jesus, the Story Teller, to be like the Samaritan of the parable. We are all travelers on life’s journey. The Samaritan takes time to see the needs of others. He too is a victim yet uses the opportunity given to him to aid a fellow victim. He is not a “do gooder.” He has no agenda. Simply, there is a person who is misunderstood, rejected, and in need, and it is within his ability to do something. And so he becomes proactive.
As we “walk the road from Jerusalem to Jericho,” it is our ministry to advocate, whenever and wherever we can, for brothers and sisters living with mental illness who are marginalized. For Jesus tells us, regarding the Samaritan, we are to “GO AND DO LIKEWISE.”
In the Gospels we are told of the Lord’s encounter with a man named Legion who had been exiled to the margins of society because of the many demons that possessed him. “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” Legion asks in Luke 8:28 (NRSV). What Jesus “does” with Legion is to cast out his demons and send him back to the community to proclaim to others the efficacy of God’s love in his life. In a piece for the Episcopal Mental Illness Network (www.eminnews.org), The Reverend Richard York asserts that this incident is instructive for guiding the Christian community toward effective ministries for the mentally ill. To paraphrase Rev. York, Jesus seeks this man out, loves and heals him, and finally encourages him to join and actively participate in the church community.
Society no longer interprets mental illness as the result of demonic possession. Professional mental health practitioners rely on decades of scientific research that identify environmental and physiological factors as the underlying causes of mental illness. Yet like Legion, the mentally ill are all too often ostracized from the mainstream, and for many, their experience feels like they are battling with relentless demons.
As a Diocesan committee comprised of lay and clerical mental health professionals and advocates who view this issue from both clinical and theological perspectives, we have all experienced the theme of broken relationships in our work with the mentally ill. Those who suffer from mental illness generally struggle with establishing healthy and fulfilling relationships.
This personal estrangement parallels are own broken relationship with God. In his death and resurrection Jesus sought to heal that brokenness so that we might once again live in full relationship with God. Our participation in the Body of Christ entails creating a nurturing environment where this same kind of healing can occur as we learn to interact with one another in fellowship and love. This may mean providing gentle encouragement to those who seem reluctant to connect or overcoming our own natural tendency to avoid those who behave in an unexpected manner.
The stated mission of the Diocesan Mental Health Committee is “to live out the reconciling love of Jesus by offering educational programs and networking resources so that the Church may be a hospitable dwelling for people living with mental illness.” We strive to seek out, love, and offer healing and encouragement so that the Legions in our midst can actively participate in our church community. Amen
Scriptural Reflections on mental health issues and the work of the Mental Health Committee