“Legion is my name. There are many of us” [Mk 5:9].
When I was much younger, I thought those words were among the most frightening in the Bible. There was just something very chilling about them. Part of it was the demon’s brazen declaration of who he and his gang were. Was that name, “Legion”, supposed to scare Jesus? Well it might have scared me, but it certainly didn’t scare Jesus. It was also the idea of that poor man possessed by so many demons. After all, a Roman Legion could have as many as 6,000 fighting men.
And yet, if you think about it, Satan is the father of lies and his minions follow suit. How many were there? We don’t know. And I suppose the last thing they resembled were the disciplined soldiers who made up a legion. To be disciplined is to obey and that’s one thing Satan doesn’t do.
Recall how Jesus commissioned the disciples:
“Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” [Mt 28:19-20]Yes, “…all that I have commanded you.” In other words, through obedience to His commands the Church will remain united. Jesus calls us to unity.
But Satan…his name in Greek – diabolos (διάβολος) – means the scatterer. He doesn’t unite; he scatters. He strives to destroy community, to create dissension. He tears apart all that is good. This is exactly what he did to the Gerasene community that Jesus and the apostles visited.
This was not a Jewish community. The Gerasenes were gentiles, pagans…and Jesus encountered three types of beings during His brief stay.
The first was the man who meets Jesus on His arrival. Living among the tombs, a kind of wild-man, he was being destroyed by the demons who possessed him. But he came to Jesus didn’t he? He saw Him from a distance, ran up to Him, and fell down before Him.
Was this the act of the man himself, and not the demons who possessed him? Did he exert what little free will he still had? Driven by the Spirit, did he run to Jesus, and throw himself to the ground in a silent act of worship? Is that what happened? I’d like to think so.
But that’s when Jesus encountered the second being, the demon who spoke for them all. He, too, recognized Jesus, the “Son of the Most High God” [Mk 5:7].
He also knows that his time is up. He came face to face with the power of God Himself. “…do not torment me” [Mk 5:7], he begged. He also asked to remain among the Gerasenes. Apparently the pickin’s were good there. And he saw an opportunity to divide further, to scatter. “Send us into the swine” [Mk 5:12], he begs. And Jesus does just that. 2,000 swine, valuable livestock, run off a cliff into the water and drown.
With this Jesus encounters the third group of beings, the people of Gerasene. The swineherds, who had witnessed it all, told the locals everything that had happened. They saw the possessed man standing before them as normal as can be; indeed, more normal even than they. It was all too much for them. As Mark tells us, “…they were seized with fear” [Mk 5: 15] and begged Jesus to leave them, to go away. They saw the work of God but refused to recognize His presence among them.
Yes, Satan did his work, didn’t he? He scattered. And Jesus allowed it…for now. Satan probably thought he’d won. After all, Jesus was sent away. But the scatterer failed to notice something important…because Jesus didn’t really leave, did He? At least not entirely. For His Word remained there in the person of a disciple.
Jesus sent the one he freed from Satan’s grasp to proclaim the Good News. Unlike Satan, he obeyed. Yes, this man, once possessed by a legion of demons became the first missionary to the Gentiles.
Jesus chooses the most unlikely among us to demonstrate His power and His mercy. No matter how we’ve failed in the past, no matter how sinful, how unworthy, God continues to call us. He will never stop extending His bountiful mercy. For God is love and can do nothing else.
Oh, yes, I didn’t mention one group of people who were there with Jesus during His visit to Gerasene: the apostles. And yet we hear nothing from them, do we? They say not a word. Perhaps they too were frightened by those chilling words and all that took place that day. Only later would they realize why Jesus had taken them to that dark place: to give them a taste of what they would encounter as they “make disciples of all nations.”
And how about us? Do we extend mercy to the most unlikely, the most unloved, those rejected by the world? Do we carry Jesus’ Word and His merciful love into the dark places of our world?
Or do we instead do the work of the scatterer?