When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”
Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“My name is Legion,” he replied “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.
The Bible is weird.
And sometimes, it’s really weird!
Now if this whole idea of possession and, really, just supernatural things in general is something you can’t do, I get it. Stories like this are strange and beyond what most of us have experienced. But if you only read the Bible at face value you lose so much of it’s rich content, in my opinion.
Demon possession can be thought of as a metaphor for the destruction of the image of God within man. What is the image of God in man? Well, I would say we bear the image of God when we participate in relationship with others, when we choose to love instead of hate, when we choose to accept love rather than judge ourselves, when we choose to let neither pain nor pleasure consume us but live at the horizon of the two.
In this way we all suffer from an “impure spirit”. Who among us hasn’t damaged a relationship? Who has never condemned and judged themselves as unworthy, as not enough? Who has rejected the love of another due to pride or, perhaps more likely, fear?
All of these actions destroy. They destroy the way we view ourselves. They destroy who we are, our identity.
Going back to the story, this man of “impure spirits” is living in caves on the country side. He has been driven there by his own people, perhaps his own family. At that time, a person’s identity was often defined by their heritage and the community of people they lived with. Driven to the outskirts of town to live among the poor in caves that littered the hills, this man was stripped of all the ways in which he had identified himself.
Essentially, the question Jesus asks the man about his name is this, “How do you define yourself?”
We see the confirmation of his lost identity in his response to Jesus: “My name is Legion, for we are many.”
He can’t define himself. His mind is scattered, his sense of self lost. At the depth of his being, this man has no grounding. He doesn’t even know his own name.
Additionally, he has become attached to this condition and accepted it as the way things are. He begs Jesus not to send these “impure spirits” away. How many of us struggle to let go of the nonsense in our heads? The lies we tell ourselves about being worthless, not smart enough, not beautiful enough, not strong enough? Eventually you get to a point where you have told yourself this so many times you start to believe the lie at the core of your being and can’t even listen to others who tell you otherwise.
Indeed, we have all struggled with these “impure spirits”.
How does Jesus respond? How is the metaphor resolved?
The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.
Jesus sends the “impure spirits” into the pigs to display, with clarity, their intent to destroy.
When we lose our identity and begin to redefine ourselves with lies and deception, it only achieves one thing. Destruction. It inhibits relationship, ruins our desire to love others, and utterly destroys our ability to love ourselves.
This is why the stories of Jesus tell of him redefining those who are lost, providing a new way, a mode of identity, a new way to answer the question, “What is your name?”
The message of Jesus is this:
You are loved.
You are worthy.
You are enough.
You were yesterday, you are today, and you will be tomorrow.
By no merit of your own. You don’t have to say the magic words, you don’t have to arrange your mental furniture in the correct way, you don’t have to perform the perfect ritual.
Simply believe these truths about yourself, let these words be your identity, let them be your grounding, and you will experience life BEFORE death.
Grace and mercy ⇒ peace and love.