The Perspective of Legion.
It is clear that Legion has been rejected by his community. Once again we wonder about the story behind the story. We can say that, directly or indirectly, he was a victim of three centuries of violence and repression. It is even possible that he became a perpetrator of the violence inflicted on subjected people by the Roman Empire. Strong young men in the regions could be selected and trained for service in the Roman forces on the borders of the empire. Had he seen unspeakable acts? Had he committed violence against villages in the name of Rome? Is he suffering from something that today we might call post-traumatic stress disorder? A tutored imagination (Bruce Malina) allows us to consider these possibilities.
Legion roams day and night. His shouts and screams haunt the area. He cuts himself with stones. Jesus asks: What is your name? He responds: My name is Legion for we are many. The demons that reside in Legion sometimes speak for him. They have the power to dominate his voice and his actions. He is a divided and tortured soul.
Legion runs to Jesus and throws himself at his feet. This is a clear sign that he desires redemption, salvation, healing and dignity. The mystery is that Legion also fears redemption, salvation, healing, and dignity. He is divided and at war within himself. He shouts: “What do you want with me Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Do not torture me!”
Many of us instinctively understand this dual reaction. We long for God’s healing and transformation. At the same time we have established a certain comfort with destructive behaviour patterns and fear the unknown. The alcoholic goes back to the bottle. The drug addict goes back to the drugs. The workaholic goes back to the office. We long to break free from evil and addictive patterns. Yet we fear healing.
Jesus frees Legion from the evil spirits that torment him. The destructive nature of evil is evident in the way the pigs rush to the water and drown. Now Legion sits clothed and healed in the posture of a disciple. He wants to follow Jesus but this request is denied.
Healing is both an event (an encounter with Jesus) and a process. He must reintegrate into the community that feared him. Healing is always personal and social in nature. He is challenged to build a new life as a witness to God’s healing power. He will discover his vocation as the first Gentile evangelist and missionary.
The Perspective of God.
Jesus treats Legion, even in his most frightening moments, as a person created in the image of God. Jesus neither attempts to flee nor to restrain him with the help of his followers. We do not read too much into the text when we see behind the words and actions of Jesus the longing of God to heal and restore this troubled man. Jesus confronts head on the evil that distorts and destroys his life. The story helps us to see that in our worst moments we are loved and that God longs to heal our wounds.
Jesus gives Legion immediate and visual release from the demons that torment him. Yet his healing will not be complete without entering back into his community. He needs the restoration of human relationships to undo the impact of the evil spirits that have dominated his life.
For many of us healing is a process that begins when we throw ourselves before God requesting his mercy. Redemption and transformation require a supportive community to encourage and sustain us in the challenge of living out our new identity as children of the Father and disciples of Jesus. Community is also essential as the place where we can explore the personal mission or vocation to which God calls us.
Finally, the Legion story enables us to consider that God’s care extends to the communities of the Decapolis. Jesus sends Legion back home as a witness to the possibility of transformation for people oppressed by evil, fear, and violence. We may use this story to reflect on our calling to be a presence and a witness in the communities to which we have been called to serve.