Legion & Liberation

On the first Wednesday of the month, we invite a member of our community to write a guest post for our blog. This post is a sermon written and preached by Chad Lucas, who's a member of our Halifax GS group. It's about an inefficient mission trip, scapegoating, liberation, and community. He preached this sermon over Zoom at our Sunday service as part of our East Coast Virtual Connection in July 2020. You'll find a link to the captioned video underneath the scripture, and a transcript below that.


Mark 5:1-20

They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”

A painting of Jesus (in the center) wearing a red robe, healing the demoniac who is flanked by a horde of pigs jumping in the water. The disciples look on.
"Jesus Heals the Gerasene Demoniac," Artist Unknown

Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

Good morning. Good morning to the West Coast folks I guess, good afternoon to the rest of us! It's an honor to be sharing today.

When Wendy asked me if I would speak at this service, my mind immediately went to this passage. It's one of my favorite passages in the Gospels. I've come back to it over and over in the past 20 years. And some of my friends from the Halifax GS Group have heard me talk about it before. So for some of you, if you're on the call here, this might be a little bit of a repeat, but it's one that I keep coming back to. It's taught me so much about who Jesus is, and how he works, and I think it has something to say to us about community too, which has been the theme of our retreat this weekend. So let's jump in. And for those of you for whom the Bible is a struggle sometimes, I hope this approach to this passage will let you find something in it too.

The first thing I want to draw your attention to is that the story begins and ends with Jesus in a boat. If you go back to chapter 4, he actually has to calm the storm just to reach the shore here in this region. And so he goes through all of this, and the whole time he's in this region he really only interacts with this one man. We wouldn't call this an efficient ministry trip by today's modern standards. You know, if Jesus had like a board of elders or something like that, he couldn't report back about how many people he baptized, or how many people turned up for the worship service in the park. He didn't even make it into town, he doesn't really get any further than the shore, and he meets this man, and it sets off this chaotic series of events where he gets asked to leave. So by our standards, this trip is kind of a disaster; it's not a very successful mission trip. But I don't think that matters to Jesus, and I don't think he sees it that way.

Another image of Jesus healing a naked man on a rock, as pigs jump in the water.
Jesus heals the Gerasene Demoniac, artist unknown

So the one man Jesus meets when he lands on the shore is the Town Outcast. This man is naked. He's probably got a very thick matted head of hair and beard. He's covered in bruises and cuts. And he probably has broken chains dangling from his wrists and ankles. We’re told that over and over again, people tried to chain him to subdue him.

So what's going on with this man? The reading in the text, the 1st century view, is that he's probably possessed by several demons. Our modern medical diagnosis might be that he's suffering from a severe mental illness.

One of the things I want to focus on today is that a lot of readings by Black theologians and queer theologians look at this text and see someone who's dealing with a lot of internalized trauma, that a lot of what he's going through is related to his trauma. That's kind of where I want to focus a little bit today. And we get a hint of that in the name he gives to Jesus. When Jesus asked what his name is, he says, “My name is Legion.” Now, if you're a first-century Jew, reading this story or hearing this story, particularly in this region, the term “Legion” instantly has a double meaning. Where the story takes place, in the Decapolis - this is the seat of Roman power in the region. This is occupied territory that Jesus is in, and this man is in. It's controlled by a Gentile army, essentially. That's the only reason there's a local pig farm in the area, because Jewish people in the 1st century, of course, would avoid pigs. So we'll come back to that later.

But I want to focus on this man for a second. And it's clear that nobody's really trying to help this man. At this point, they've decided the only thing they can do is try to subdue him, to try to chain him, restrain him. They're just trying to contain him, essentially. We're told he's been chained over and over again, but he always breaks free. And every time he's chained, people probably say things like, “This is for your own good,” or “We're looking out for your best interests.” But really I want to suggest it might be about preserving the order of the town. We don't have any indication that this man was violent toward anyone else; we're told that he's been injuring himself, but we don't know that he's been violent toward other people in the community. But clearly he's being treated as a threat. Now, you can't have a loud naked man running around the streets scaring off the tourists. So, you try to lock him up. And if that doesn't work you drive him out to the hills and the tombs, where he's alone, away from everyone.