- A significant factor in fostering good mental health is connection to community. How do people in your church "get connected" – and stay connected (e.g., youth group, choir, outreach ministries)?
- How might your church integrate mental health care into your ongoing ministries (e.g., adult education programs, praying for persons with mental illnesses and those who care for them) just as we do for persons with cancer or after surgery – while also respecting confidentiality? How might your church train staff and volunteer leaders in mental health and suicide prevention?
- What questions do you have about this story of the Jesus and the man with an "unclean spirit?"
- What has been your experience or your family's experience with mental illness and/or suicide – and what role, if any, did your church community have?
What Have You to Do With Us?
"Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?" - Mark 1:23-24
Jesus had just come out of the wilderness, called his first followers, and was in the middle of his first sermon in Capernaum. Then a man "with an unclean spirit" showed up yelling, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?" What a way to start a ministry!
Actually I can't think of a better story to begin the good news of Jesus Christ. His first miracle isn't walking on water or feeding the multitudes. It's healing someone with "an unclean spirit," a 1st century description of mental illness.
Then, as now, such persons were often among the most isolated and vulnerable people of their communities. Yet there are more accounts of Jesus' caring for persons with mental illness than all other healing stories combined. That says something about his ministry—and also ours.
Moreover when Jesus met the man in the Capernaum synagogue or other persons with "unclean spirits" or demons, he didn't condemn or judge them. He didn't address their faith issues or need for forgiveness as he did in other healing stories. Instead he differentiated between the "unclean spirit" and the person it was attacking, a person who deserved his compassion and help. If such understanding was important for Jesus, then it's important for the Church.
Jesus began his ministry by healing the man "with an unclean spirit." This story is also a good way to begin this World Suicide Prevention Day. In our time, as in Jesus', persons with mental illness and those who love and care for them, often echo the Capernaum man's cry, "What have you to do with us?"
"Quite a bit," Jesus answered unequivocally. That needs to be our answer, too.
Hear our prayer, Lord, for those afflicted with mental illness and those who care for them. Hear our prayer, too, for our congregations to respond with Jesus' compassion and understanding. Amen.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.