The Dysfunctional Family of the Gadarene Madman
The Story of the Gadarene Madman is told in three of the Gospels, John’s being the only one that is excepted (Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-20, Luke 8:26-37). Jesus, in His travels, ventures into a Gentile area when He passes over the Sea of Galilee. Upon disembarking from his boat, he is immediately met by a demon possessed mad man. Upon meeting Jesus, he falls at his feet, and worships Him, and cries out, “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that you do not torment me.” (Mark 5:6) Jesus was already commanding the unclean spirit to come out of him, and He asked him his name, to which of course, he famously replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” (vs. 8-9).
This man plays a very special role in the community of the Gadarenes. He is possessed by a legion of demons (1000 demons). He is the scapegoat of the entire community. This means that he bears the demons of everyone, and that they are able to transfer their tormentors to him.
A friend of mine who is a Christian clergyman, and is from India, and has demonstrated gifts of exorcism, tells me that the power of the witch doctor is the power of being able to command lesser demons to leave by the power of a greater demon. But the demons are never banished. They just transfer place or position. In the case of this text, the demons of the village were all put on this one poor man who became a representative demoniac, and bore the pain and agony of the entire community in himself.
There are four descriptors around the demoniac that we need to look at. First, he is chained, but in his madness is so crazed that he breaks the chains and cannot be restrained. He is the recipient of the accusations of the demons of the village. The very character of the devil is that his is “an accuser” (Revelation 12:10, Zechariah 3:1). Accusation is the most galling of all experiences, and he is accused day and night by the devils who have taken possession of him who used to accuse the community. Now along with the demons, the whole village also accuse him. Secondly, he is naked. (Luke 8:27, Mark 5:15) This is a symbol of shame, and he thus bears the shame of the entire community. Thirdly, the text says that he cuts himself with stones (Mark 5:5). In the Greek, the term is “autolapsis”, which literally translated means “self stoning”. In other words, the madman executes himself by stoning, which in the ancient world was a ritual form of execution. Hence, he is executed on behalf of the community as well. Finally, he lives amongst the tombs, (Mark 5:2, 5) which as a fulfillment of the other curses on him means that he is already dead. He bears death and damnation in himself for the whole rest of the community.
The demons immediately begin to beg that they not be sent out of the country, and beg instead that they might be sent into a herd of swine that are nearby. Now, this is ambiguous. The swine are in fact a mirror image of the village. There are about 2000 pigs (Mark 5:13), and in fact the demons may be begging to be allowed to re-enter the people in the village, for whom the madman is a surrogate. To the demons, the people are as unclean as the pigs, and either allows for their occupation. But Jesus mercifully does not send them back to the village people, but instead sends them into the nearby pigs, and they, driven mad by the incursion into them, rush off of a cliff and into the Sea of Galilee.
To fall into the sea is to fall into the abyss. In doing this, Jesus does what no medicine man or witch doctor is able to do. He does not just exchange one demon for another from one place to another, and that in a temporary fashion, but Jesus banishes them forever, and sends them back to the abyss.
This is a reversal of all pagan stories and myths. In all pagan myths, the madman would have been executed, and thus order would have been restored to the community. But here, the pigs (who represent the community) rush off the edge of the cliff and thus experience a form of ritual execution, and the madman is sane and safe at the top of the cliff. This is a pattern that we find all over the Bible, and in this the Bible demonstrates its difference from all other ancient texts. Here, we find the victim vindicated and restored. There is no corollary to this pattern outside of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures in the ancient world.
Other examples would be the vindication of Joseph when he is lifted up as the one who becomes the “Prime Minister” of Egypt after his brothers scapegoat him and lay on him all of their own discontents and envy. Another would be the book of Job. If Job was a Greek tragedy or any other kind of ancient myth, Job would have been ritually executed or banished at the end of the book for his sins, and in this way order and peace would be restored to the community. Instead, Job is vindicated by God, and his “comforters” who in reality are terrible accusers and persecutors, are told they must go to him to be interceded for in order that they might be restored. Job is vindicated and then Job becomes the priest who intercedes on behalf of his own tormentors for their restoration. It is out of his intercession that a new social order is established and all of the strictures of all of the pagan and ancient world were reversed.
In the next scene, we find the Gadarene madman no longer a madman, but “sitting and clothed and in his right mind” (Mark 5:15). Those who had herded the swine saw what happened, and they went into the village and reported all of this to the people, and they came and saw, and “were afraid”. They then beg Jesus to leave.
It is very significant that they beg Jesus to leave. Jesus has in fact, just annihilated the social order of the village. The entire village functioned by placing their demons on the madman. If he no longer functions in this way, there is no way left of establishing and maintaining cohesion amongst the people. The “glue” of the community is gone. The community cannot function without the madman to blame and to bear the wounds and demons of everybody else.
This is a story that we are only now beginning to catch up with. In the 1940s, Murray Bowen, who was the father of family therapy, was beginning to uncover the dynamics of family and group relationships in his study of the family’s of schizophrenics. He found that various “roles” were assumed that fit the entire dynamics of the family, and was a cohesive whole. Somebody always played the role of the scapegoat and bore the blame for the rest of the family. Likewise, at almost exactly the same time, the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous made the dismaying discovery that the healing of the alcoholic did not restore the family, but often destroyed it. As a result, Al Anon and later Al Ateen were established, and it began to be understood that it was not just the alcoholic who was sick, but the entire family.
The term “co-dependent” has come to be a generic word that means almost nothing. About all that it now means is that one so afflicted is emotionally troubled. But in its original and very luminous meaning, it meant that the entire family partook of the addiction of the alcoholic or drug addict through the addict. Everyone in the family was dependent upon the substance, not just the one with the identified substance problem. If he (or she) stopped partaking, the entire rest of the family likewise underwent a kind of withdrawal, and lost all previous ways of relating. The family is left with an enormous vacuum and no longer have any way of having relationship at all. To the shock of the early AA fellowship, it was discovered that if an alcoholic stopped drinking, and began to find healing, that the rest of the family would often try to push him or her back into old patterns of drinking. They needed the alcohol as much as the alcoholic himself. Likewise, amongst the roles that began to be identified, which have all now passed into popular psychological culture (the enabler, the comedian, the lost child, the scapegoat) it was discovered that if any of the people functioning in any of the other roles, pulled out of their role, the family likewise tended to cease to be able to function. If the family comedian stops relieving the tensions with humor, or if the enabler stops making excuses for the alcoholic when he is incapacitated, then the entire edifice likewise begins to collapse. In other words, it was discovered that an “anti-covenant” existed amongst the family or group, and real healing in any person began to destroy the old and “dysfunctional” ways of relating. The result is confusion and lostness and emptiness, and great resistance is put up to any degree of healing. In other words, we become comfortable and accustomed to our sicknesses and find that we cannot function without them.
This community did not welcome what Jesus has done for the madman in their midst. There is no doubt that the madman was hated, and regarded as dangerous and undesirable. But in truth the community could not function without him. He was the source of peace and tranquility in their midst. Just as all families of alcoholics complain of the miseries inflicted on them by the alcoholic, when he is healed the family more often than not cannot cope with his healing, and they too are in need of healing and restoration. The community of the Gadarene madman was as sick and unrighteous as he. They are neither glad for the healing nor are they interested in welcoming Jesus. Jesus has just destroyed their whole social order, and they want Him to leave.
A good part of the Western world is now in the process of asking Jesus to leave. He has substantially destroyed the social order of most of the western world. The ancient world was hermetically sealed in its seeking out of scapegoats to bear the sins and sorrows of the community. The ancient world really did believe in the guilt and ill desert of those chosen to bear the guilt of all of the rest. Jesus came to fulfill the beginnings and hints that we find in the Hebrew Scriptures. What begins with narratives like Joseph and Job are finally completely fulfilled in Jesus. When all things came to their culmination, the High Priest declared that “it is expedient that one man die for the people.” (John 18:14) There was no evidence before any of the three courts that Jesus appeared before that he was guilty. The only evidence brought forward was manufactured, and several of the trials were illegal. But Jesus was declared guilty, and in concert with all of the ancient world, He fulfilled the role of scapegoat so the community could psychically survive.
Jesus broke the hermetic seal of the world. He was the one who demonstrated the difference between guilt and victimization. Most of the world (apart from the Hebrews with the precursors revealed in their Scriptures), lived by means of the scapegoat, and it was believed that they were truly deserving of their end. Part of the meaning of the Resurrection was that it was God’s vindication of the innocence of Jesus. He was innocent, and He was who and what He said He was. “The stone that was rejected by the builders has become the chief cornerstone.” (Ps. 118:22, quoted in Acts 4:11). But in doing this, He also began to destroy the social order of the world. While the ancient world was “dysfunctional” to an almost absolute degree, it is also the case that it “worked”, because the scapegoat gave the world a way of continuing to function.
“Triangulation” is a word that has become common in recent years in conjunction with the popularization of family theory and the study of dysfunction. But once again, it apt, and it is connected to profound Biblical roots.
The Augustinian formulation of the Trinity states that the Holy Spirit is the connector, or even more strongly, the relationship between the Father and the Son. This is very odd language, but very profound. We commonly conceive of a “relationship” as some sort of abstraction. But the Biblical formulation of the Trinity tells us that in the Godhead, relationship is a Person. It is the Holy Spirit who connects and is the relationship and love between the Father and the Son. Now, all operations of the persons of the Trinity in the world are analogues of the operations of the Trinity within Himself. So, just as the Holy Spirit functions as the “relater” in the Godhead, so He functions in the world. The Holy Spirit is the connector between all things that are created by the Father through the Son. And especially in the church, the Holy Spirit is the one who creates “koinoneo” or fellowship. We speak of the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. He is the one who connects us to one another. (2 Corinthians 13:14)
In the fallen world, we cannot utterly subvert the structures of the creation, no matter how much we may be in rebellion against them. The devil, and all Satanic disruptions of the creation can only mock, mimic, and pervert what is already there. They cannot recreate the world. Hence, the devil can only pervert the Trinitarian means of relating for destructive purposes. This is what “triangling” is. In the Trinitarian pattern, one person links two others as a bond and in love. But with demonic triangulation, two people connect by using a third in order to destroy him. So, a simple example of triangulation is gossip. The bond between two people is contemptuous and belittling language about a third. Indeed, apart from the destructive gossip, there is no basis for a relationship. On the other hand, a positive imitation of the inner life of the Trinity is one person introducing and bringing together two others on the basis of commonality that he knows the two share with one another, or that will be created through the connector. The basis of this is a “preferring” of others to ones self, and it is grounded and rooted in love and humility. Triangling is rooted and grounded in hatred and contempt.
In the text of the Gadarene madman, we see the entire community triangling and relating to one another by projecting their own demons unto him and living in a relationship of hatred against him. Just like the two gossips have no basis for relationship when the gossiped one is removed, so the village of the Gadarines has lost its basis of relationship with the loss of the madman.
Part of the crisis of Western Civilization at this point is that with 2000 years of Christianity behind us, the old ways of relating no longer work. We are half Christian. The very term and concept of “scapgoating” has passed into common parlance. On a large scale, Joseph Stalin tried to revive and renew the decadent Soviet Union in the 1930s with what came to be termed “show trials”. The very name indicates that he fooled very few people. One can only pity the poor brainwashed “wreckers” that he put on trial and trained to beg for their own executions, because they and they alone (according to the prosecutors) were responsible for the almost complete non-productiveness of the bungling state controlled Soviet economy. They did nothing to re-invigorate his regime. The hermetic seal of the pagan world is gone. Jesus has been raised from the dead, and His Spirit (who is termed the “Paraclete” or defense attorney) continues to undermine the old and ancient ways of relating.
Our dilemma is that we are half Christian as a civilization. We need the rest of the package. It is not enough to expose triangulation. To only expose this leaves us in a vacuum. What is needed is all that Jesus came to bring, which is that by the power of the Holy Spirit, we move from triangulation to being image bearers of the Triune God, and learning to live as connectors, bringers of love in humility and grace. We are half way there, and half way is the most painful place of all. Just ask anyone who has come out of an alcoholic family and have lost all of the old ways.
Note: I owe the entire idea, as well as the detailed exegesis, in this article to the very profound thinker, Rene Girard. Girard is certainly one of the most interesting and important thinkers to emerge from the last third of the 20th Century. Girard is a thinker who is a native Frenchman who has resided and taught in the United States for a good part of his life. He is in the line of French deconstructionist literary theorists. He slowly came to see that the “key” to Western literature are the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, and he himself returned to the Church as a believing Christian after being a rather typical French atheist intellectual.
 The Scapegoat is a part of the Mosaic sacrificial system, and is remarkable for what it revealed about the social order of the ancient world (and the modern). Jesus clearly was the fulfillment of this type in the Old Testament. Here is Leviticus 16:20-22.
20: And when he has made an end of atoning for the holy place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat;
21: and Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat, and send him away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness.
22: The goat shall bear all their iniquities upon him to a solitary land; and he shall let the goat go in the wilderness.
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