‘In his right mind’

“And they came to Jesus and observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the ‘legion;’ and they became frightened” (Mark 5:15).

Sometimes you just can’t win. The demoniac from Gerasea (or Genneserat, see Matthew 14:34) had lived for some time in the tombs, isolated from normal society because of his bizarre behavior (Mark 5:2-5). He was rejected and feared by the villagers about him. But when Jesus cast the demons out of the man, restoring him to his right mind, the people were even more frightened. Actually their fright at this time was directed towards Jesus rather than the former demoniac, but it was this man’s now normal behavior, at least in part, that caused their reaction.

Normal does not always equate to ordinary. In the context of this man’s former behavior, to which the villagers had become accustomed, finding him in his right mind was alarming. They did not know how to account for the change and feared the power which had made it possible. We would have expected rejoicing and gratitude; they responded with fear and rejection.

This raises the obvious question: “What exactly is one’s right mind?” How would we define or describe it? The story referred to in Mark 5 does not give us much information, but does offer some suggestions.

First, the demoniac, once restored to a right mind, displayed calmness and self-control. He was sitting, dressed, and acting rationally. This suggests the process of thought and logic. Previously the legion did all of the thinking for him and his actions were the result of demonic prompting. They were illogical, unpredictable and destructive. After his encounter with Jesus however he came into control of his own mind, and became able to regulate his behavior.

Second, his right mind prompted him to gratitude and to acts of service (Mark 5:18). It is natural and right for one who has been blessed to respond with thanksgiving, often expressed as the urge to do something for the one who helped him. Ingratitude is unnatural (though a common human failing) in that it does not react logically or appropriately to one’s situation. Jesus redirected the healed man’s impulse to a more productive target (his own village) but approved of his intention (Mark 5:19).

Third, his right mind enabled the man to change his behavior to that which was helpful to himself and his community. The very phrase, “right mind,” evokes the thought of righteousness. This is a fundamental characteristic of God and is one that Jesus came to teach believers to acquire (Titus 2:11-12). A right mind leads one to righteous conduct. One basic element of righteousness is helpfulness or simple goodness.

In his letter to Titus, Paul contrasts the harmful, unproductive results of false teaching with the wholesome helpfulness of the righteous:

“. . . To those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed” (Titus 1:15-16).

“These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you. Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to every good deed, to malign no one, to be uncontentious, gentle, showing every consideration for all men” (Titus 2:15-3:2).

Being in one’s right mind is to be closer to God and to share elements of his nature. Mankind was created in his image (Genesis 1:26-27). Sin separates and alienates us from our creator (Genesis 3:8, 22-24).

Like the demoniac of old, when evil no longer dwells within us, we find ourselves longing for God’s company. That is truly to be in our right mind.

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