Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me’— for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Legion’; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’ So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
When Jesus was once asked to sum up the Jewish Law he said it could be condensed into a single sentence – ‘Love God with all of your being, and love your neighbour as you love yourself’. (Mark 12:30, 31). If a similar challenge was set – which image in the Bible sums up the Gospel? – pretty near the top of my list would come the scene from today’s reading in which the man who had been catastrophically disturbed was now seen, ‘clothed and in his right mind’. (Luke 8:35).
Time and again, when I read the Gospel stories, I am struck by how when dis-eased people (and especially those who clearly knew both their need and their inability to fix themselves) encountered Jesus the result was that disturbance was replaced with good order, incompleteness gave way to wholeness, chaos transformed into peace – ‘shalom’. The one in today’s story who is called ‘Legion’, or ‘Mob’ or whatever name your translation supplies, represents all that is out of place and destructively fragmented, not just in his life but in anyone’s life, and in any society. His fragmentation is within him, but also is there in broken relationships, and within a community which, quite literally, could neither restrain nor confine him.
In a very real sense, Legion is a mirror held up to each of us and all of us. His cry is the yearning of any of us who are entangled in our own muddles, wrong-headedness and inadequate love – ‘What have you come to do with me, Jesus of Nazareth?’ And it is that marvellous scene, of being clothed and restored to a right mind, which gives us Jesus’ answer – God’s intention for all people is that our living, our thinking, our being shall all be rightly ordered and in the right place – for that is why we were made.
Now that, for me, is Gospel – Good news -indeed!
I am frightened by all manner of disturbance in society around me.
I scarcely can own up to such inconsistency and tangles
within me which prevent me from living
wholly, peacefully and usefully in your way.
So meet with me
as Jesus met with the man among the tombs
and re-clothe me as you intend.
Then use me as a witness of your gift of peace
for all whom I meet.
The Rev’d Ian Fosten is a minister in the Norwich Area group of URCs.