JESUS AND THE ROUGH SLEEPER
ONE of the unforgettable stories from the Bible is the story of Legion, which appears in much the same form in the three Synoptic Gospels.
It’s a detailed story sub-headed “Jesus cures a madman” in my New English Bible and memorable for its tabloid-like sensationalism. Legion’s demons are sent into a herd of pigs, which stampede over a cliff. It’s dramatic stuff, which would certainly have made the headlines today.
But it’s not this aspect of the story which interests me. What grabs my attention is that Jesus reached out to a man whose bizarre behaviour had led to him becoming isolated and feared by his own community to such an extent that he slept rough, banished to the margins.
St. Mark tells us: “Unceasingly, night and day, he would cry aloud among the tombs and on the hillsides and cut himself with stones.” (Mark Ch 5 v.5)
Landing on the shore of Gerasenes, how easy it would have been for Jesus to make his way into the settled homes of the village, enjoy a drink, chat in the sun and accept the admiration of polite society.
But Jesus was different to you and me. Jesus’s ministry was, above all, inclusive. No one was beyond the love of God, beyond hope, beyond his healing power.
Sometimes as I wander around Torquay town centre and see some of the familiar street dwellers, cursing through a drunken haze, dishevelled, angry and isolated, I think about how Jesus approached Legion, fearlessly, seeing the man behind the “madness” and wonderfully, astonishingly “made all things new” for him.
Jesus no longer walks our streets, but he still has followers who are trying to be his hands on earth.
The ministry of Factory Row and Project 58 is a team effort to bring those who are living on the margins of our community, “among the tombs” as it were, back into the heart of our society.
Social isolation only compounds the problems that many have. A resident of Factory Row once told me that the hardest thing about waking up on a park bench or a seafront shelter in the morning was the look of disgust and snarled comments from passers-by.
But how ready is society to accept the reformed alcoholic, the ex-drug user, and the psychotic whose symptoms are managed with medication, back into a trusted role?
The story of Legion has one more telling point. Far from the local people rejoicing that this local nuisance, this down and out, had been restored to them, St. Mark records that “they were afraid”.
What of I wonder? Perhaps it was because they would have to change too. They would have to abandon their scapegoating of Legion; the easy stereotype that “people like him never change”, the pigeon-holing and the pecking order.
In Gerasenes a “madman” had become a celebrity. Things would never be the same again and they didn’t like it. No wonder they asked Jesus to leave.
If all goes to plan, the existing Factory Row buildings will be demolished this summer and then work will begin on a new purpose-built hostel. Planning permission was obtained in December and alternative accommodation for the people who live in Factory Row secured.
The new premises will house 24 residents and include training rooms, doctors’ surgery and offices.
The rebuilding of the hostel was planned by Torbay Churches Homeless Trust some years ago but is only now coming to fruition under the Langley House Trust. Money from the original ‘Move On Up’ appeal will be going towards it and the ‘Friends of Factory Row’ will be raising more to furnish the lounge.
God has been faithful to the original vision of a community inspired homeless project. He has delivered!
The Torbay Churches Homeless Trust merged with the Langley House Trust in October, 2005, ensuring the future of the hostel and its Christian ethos. Langley was founded in the 1950s by John Dodd, a survivor of a Japanese PoW camp.
Your donations of food that can be stored, toiletries and other consumables essential to daily life are always appreciated at the hostel. These can be brought to church on Sundays or at any other time the church is open.