Because of how Matthew jumps from high point to high point in his storytelling, I’m not sure if the phrase “as they were going away” (verse 32) is referring to the two blind men or not. Logic would tell me yes, but I have been fooled a few times already. Whenever it happened chronologically, someone brought to Jesus a man who was unable to speak.
Having a medical background sometimes gets me thinking about the suffering people in the stories in the bible in a different way. One thing I ponder is what our medical community would have labeled their illnesses today. Another is what treatment would we have prescribed for them? Still another is wondering why so many illnesses were attributed to demons and demon possession. Mental health illnesses specifically were prone to this diagnosis/description. Mental health is actually the focus area in my training. I will not say expert because I am FAR from that. Our story today brings those thoughts front and center for me.
Before I dig myself in any deeper, let me assure you that I believe EVERY word in the bible. I think there may be an experiential and vocabulary mismatch that contributes to my previously mentioned thoughts. Our bible writers were limited to the available medical knowledge of the time, as well as writing in a language totally foreign to most of us. We have had scholars translate the language but the underlying knowledge base discrepancy still exists. On the other hand, we may have simply discovered the real meanings behind their practices relating to diseases. Take leprosy for example. In bible days the person with leprosy was “unclean” and had to be separated from society for the protection of others. We have discovered there is a bacterium which causes this disease. So in essence, by separating people with leprosy from the general population, they were attempting to control the bacterial spread. We have learned how to kill that bacterium so leprosy is no longer an issue.
So with all this in mind, let’s get back to our story. The first thing I noticed is that Matthew says the man is “demon-oppressed” (verse 32) not demon possessed. There is a difference. Let’s start with the Dictionary.com definitions first:
to burden with cruel or unjust impositions or restraints; subject to a burdensome or harsh exercise of authority or power:
a people oppressed by totalitarianism.
to lie heavily upon (the mind, a person, etc.):
Care and sorrow oppressed them.
to weigh down, as sleep or weariness does.
to have as belonging to one; have as property; own:
to possess a house and a car.
to have as a faculty, quality, or the like:
to possess courage.
(of a spirit, especially an evil one) to occupy, dominate, or control (a person) from within:
He thought he was possessed by devils.
(of a feeling, idea, etc.) to dominate or actuate in the manner of such a spirit:
He was possessed by envy.
Oppression happens from the outside in, whereas possession happens from the inside out. Both involve spiritual forces affecting physical reactions or results. But with oppression the spiritual entity, the demon, has not been given access to the individual’s spirit. The demon works on the individual’s mind instead. With possession, the demon has control over the individual’s spirit and mind.
The weight of the world had crushed this man into silence. Today we would call his condition a “conversion disorder”, where the mind is so distressed that it actually manifests physical symptoms. The body is fine but the mind’s problem overrides the body’s functioning. Jesus removed the outside pressure and the man was immediately healed. Those bringing the man to Jesus were astonished by Jesus’ authority.
As someone who has suffered something similar to this, I can tell you it is not something one can just “get over.” It is a heavy spiritual battle that takes Jesus’ strength to fight it. I also believe that God has given us more resources than were available in bible times and He allows us to avail ourselves of them. Medication was a mighty help to me as I waged my battle. I wish I would have had physical access to Jesus, like the man in our story did.
The end of our story makes me want to smack someone! The Pharisees KNEW Jesus’ ministry was from God. They had more than enough evidence to prove it, yet they continued to tell the people otherwise. I believe they were afraid of losing their authority and position if they admitted the truth. I realize they had a role to fill in God’s plan but, seriously, how could they possibly think they were serving God with their behavior. And God was Who they were supposed to be serving above all else.
Father God, thank You for the healing You worked in me. It didn’t come instantly like the man in our story’s did, but it was certainly from You. Thank You for the medical knowledge You have given us over the years. For this man, thank You that he had friends who cared enough about him to bring him to Jesus. I wonder what became of our man after his meeting with You. He could certainly speak the truth and sing You praises afterwards. I hope he did both.
I’m SO glad I no longer have people like the Pharisees in my life telling me everything from You is a lie to make themselves seem like an authority or more important. I have encountered many who believe that lie though and it breaks my heart. Father God, how do I fight that lie? I need Your strategy to fight this, even with some of my own family members. Open their eyes Lord! I want so much to be able to get through to them but know my efforts more often push them away. All I know how to do in this battle is to live honestly before You and pray they see something in our relationship that changes their hearts and minds. Protect them from the ultimate death Lord while also shaking them enough to open their eyes.