After a discussion at my bible study group about the darker side of all things spiritual I went to read again the story of Jesus’ encounter with Legion.
Legion, though often treated in culture as a proper noun is so called because he was in fact many demons. But I get ahead of myself, first a reminder of the story drawn together from the differing gospel accounts. Jesus encounters a chap from Garesenes who was demon possessed, running around naked and being dangerous and violent, he had escaped many bindings and was generally known in the area as he made life difficult for anyone trying to pass the tombs where he lived.
When Jesus came to the area and this guy runs to him and shouts, ‘What do you want with me Jesus, son of the most high God? I beg you don’t torture me, it is not yet the appointed time.’ (the stuff about appointed time only appears in Matthew)
Jesus asks him, ‘what is your name?’ and the reply he gets, ‘I am Legion, for we are many!’ This guy is just chock full of demons and they are conversing with Jesus, clearly recognising his divine nature, clearly identifying him as THE son of God. Its a passage bristling with energy is it not. The horrific image of many voices speaking as one through the wretched puppet of a human, and then there is Jesus- God in human form. (As Matthew makes explicit) A face off before the final judgment. The demons beg for mercy beg not to be judged early, and not to be cast into the abyss as it is put in Luke. Or as in Mark back to ‘some distant place’ or somewhere ‘far from here’. Apparently the Greek word used in Mark is Chora that may also be rendered as an empty expanse.
Its worth noting that the 3 words that get translated in the Bible as Hell are not present in the accounts of Legion, again this brings us back to Matthew’s extra line about about judgment before the appointed time. It reminds me of the description of fallen angels in Jude which reads- And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. Here is an image of delayed judgment, and perhaps the abyss and the empty expanse refer to this darkness. We know from Genesis (the serpent, the Nephilim) that spiritual forces counter to God have been with us from the earliest times of earth and clearly these guys (legion) are wanting not to be cast from earth to somewhere elsewhere.
I’m aware that I’m getting well beyond my knowledge now and I may be mistaken in that connection. I try very hard not to assume I know anything about it, the Bible doesn’t give us huge amounts to go on and much is beyond the normal human experience to comprehend much of it.
Anyway my main reason for writing this post is because of a detail in Mark’s account that I think runs counter to how Christian tradition understands demons. The bit that sticks out for me is something in the first desperate cries of the possessed man…
“What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!”
In God’s Name. Even this demon (or these demons) thinking his number is up calls on the mercy of the Almighty. Even a demon invokes God’s name in the hope of finding defence or hiding when faced with oblivion. A lot of us Christians like to believe that the mere mention of Jesus name would cause a demon to melt like putting salt on a slug. But of course the power in God’s name is not in its syllables but in the authority God bares. This demon knows that God is in charge, knows that he is the most high, knows that God’s ultimate victory is already in motion. This demon can do nothing in the face of God’s authority and so we see pleading.
How is it that when even Legion recognises God’s authority and Christ’s authority that so often humans do not. Even us humans who claim to be Christ’s followers sometimes do not see God’s authority so clearly as Legion did.
I pray to God that I may learn to recognise his authority in everything more completely. And I thank him that life through Christ’s spirit in me is no malady or madness. That unlike the man possessed by Legion I am not a slave. I thank God that I am called a son of God and he is my rock and protector from everything. Even those things that I can’t see and don’t understand. I thank him that he delivers me from evil.
That is all