“My Name is Legion” – June 23, 2019

Image: “Worry” By Leila Forés

Based on Luke 8: 26-39

by Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens

Our Wednesday Bible Study has just finished a study of the Miracles of Jesus, examining the various ways Jesus shows and shares his divine power with others. Many of these miracles we studied were healings – times when those with illness and desperation approach Jesus and removes the disease, the illness, the pain, bleeding or fever instantly, without requirement, payment or consequence. A gift of physical healing for a needy soul.

One of the challenges of bible study is that we tend to examine all the details of the event as keep the story in its time and place, in its own context and leave it there. We think, “Huh… that’s interesting. Jesus was an amazing healer. That man was lucky.” And we keep the story isolated in its own bubble.
Today, I’d like to bring the story into our time, into our context, to try and understand it from where we stand, from our own unique interpretations, to see the gift of healing in a new way.

So, in order to do that, we need to understand the story in its own context: So we start with the text, from Luke chapter 8. Our text begins with verse 26.

Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.
But one of the important elements of the text happens before verse 26: We come to the story as Jesus and his disciples were traveling throughout the region, teaching and healing and he decided that they should go across the lake to the other side. While on the lake, Jesus falls asleep in the boat and the disciples are left to deal with the sailing when a tremendous storm hits the lake and they begin to panic. They wake Jesus up in a panic and Jesus calms the storm.

And as they arrive on the shore, they are now in Gentile territory…..

This miracle took place in Gentile territory, not the place for devout Jews. This was a miracles to the Gentile world and the audience of Luke’s gospel would know that… Just notice the characteristics of the story: “Pigs are unclean animals. Cemeteries were the abode of spirits, to be avoided in darkness. ‘Legion’ was not a term meaning many, but a designation for one of Rome’s armies. The one stationed in Palestine had a boar on its standard. The sea was a place a danger, an abode of demonic powers. For people within such a system of values Jesus, by this act, has defied the forces of the Gentile world and exorcised the Gentile land. (1)

Here in this Gentile land, we meet the man known as the demoniac. Even in this description, we limit this man to his affliction: like calling a human being living on the street, a “homeless” or calling a person affected by paralysis, a “paralytic.” The description is not who he is. Let’s see this man in a new light:
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. 
The man is presented as being less than human: wearing no clothes, living in the tombs, driven into the wilderness. (2) He was a man with no family, no friends, he was alone with a problem.

Jesus asks him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Legion’; for many demons had entered him. What was his problem? (If you were to encounter a person who said he had a legion inside of him, what would you assume?) Take answers. Now we enter in the realm of diagnosing other people, which can be very problematic….
Schizophrenia? Bipolar disorder? Some kind of severe mental illness? He feels as though there is an army in his mind, in his body, differing thoughts and opinions, guiding him in each and every direction.

This kind of diagnosis, although helpful in molding the story into a form we can understand, still keeps it at a distance. What if we look at him as one of us.. this man has conflicting ideas, conflicting armies fighting in his head, fighting for his attention.
What does he call himself? Legion. A Roman legion consisted of about 6000 soldiers. That’s a lot of “voices” roaming around in one’s life.he had no one, nothing , except this boiling struggle of conflicting forces. It was as though a Roman legion was at war within him. (3)

While I was in seminary, my family’s house in Claremont became a rental as my folks had moved to Sacramento for a time, and the house was rented by myself and two roommates. One of those roommates was my friend Katie, who was ten years younger than I and going through a time of self-discovery and awareness, and going through this formative experience in her life, I learned a lot about myself. We would long late-night discussions about who we wanted to be in the world, what we wanted out of life and the paths we would take. During one of these conversations, she explained to me about her problems finding her place in the world. She said she was one version of Katie with her family, another at work. One version with her friends and a different version with her boyfriend. She said, “I just want to be the same Katie to everyone, in all circumstances, in every area of my life.” I’ve kept that lesson in my heart all these years and it drives me to not “put on airs” or be anyone but my own authentic messed-up self in all situations.

Maybe this man had within him, so many different voices telling him what to do and how to be in the world, that he felt as if he was at war with himself. He said his name was “Legion” and with such a response, the man acknowledged that he no longer had any individual identity. He had lost his name. He had lost his individuality.
So, his “healing” comes when Jesus restores his individuality, when Jesus sends the warring factions within him out into the pigs. As if those thoughts and factions and voices don’t belong inside this beautiful human being; “These voices are not worthy of you. They belong with the unclean pigs, not with you.”
What happened then? Well, Jesus was asked to leave the town.. causing too much trouble again. And the man asked if he could follow Jesus, but Jesus said no.

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.’

You see, the healing doesn’t end when the individual is fixed…. It is complete when the man returns to his home, to his community, to take his place among his friends and family and declares to them what God has done. “Don’t follow me.” Says Jesus, “Go home and tell others. Share with your friends and neighbors how you’ve been healed, and encourage others to be helped.” Jesus seeks not only to cure the “disease” — the demon-possession; but also to heal the illness — to restore this man to the community from which he has been estranged. He is to go home.

All of us have legions within us – various voices and forces pushing us to be someone, to do something, to be more respected, to be wealthier, to be stronger and more powerful; we all have a legion of worries within us drawing our focus and attention to them. A warring faction in our heads.

Take a moment to be healed. To breathe in the life we’ve been given, to remember that we are created to be ourselves – wholly unique and not all the different versions we create. I am me, you are you and that’s the way we were created to be, blessed children of God. Jesus calls us to be healed and to offer that healing to others. May we release that legion in ourselves and go forward to declare the ways God is working on our lives. Amen.

  1. William Loader, found on http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/LkPentecost5.htm
  2. Brian Stoffregen, found on http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/luke8x26.htm
  3. Ibid.