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"My Name Is Legion!"

February 1, 2011

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Many scholars consider this passage, the cure of the possessed man and the expulsion of demons into a herd of swine, as one of the most difficult in Mark’s Gospel. Is the story a simple exorcism? Or has the cure of the possessed man been embellished, with scriptural allusions to the victory of Jesus over evil spirits in the lands of the gentiles? It opens in the land of the Gerasenes, that is, in pagan territory, and as such, inhospitable land. It is here that Jesus encounters a maniac, a man of phenomenal strength, uncontrollable and demented. The possessed man accosts Jesus and challenges him. Jesus in turn commands the demons and demands to know their name. They reply ‘Legion’, implying there are a host of them. As Jesus is about to cast them out, they beg to be sent into a herd of swine gazing on the hillside, which is what Jesus does; and the herd plunges over the cliff into the lake. This exorcism stuns the townspeople. Realizing they are in the presence of a great spiritual man, they are in awe and beg him to leave the place. The possessed man, now completely cured, volunteers to join Jesus as his disciple, but the Lord asks him instead to spread the news of his cure to his own folk and in his own country. So this unknown pagan becomes the first apostle to the gentiles! It’s also possible that, more than just a healing story, this passage is a scriptural interpretation of those lines from Isaiah, chapter 65, where the prophet says:      I was there to be sought by a people who did not know me,       And found by men who did not seek me.      I said ‘here I am’ to a nation that did not invoke my name. Isaiah speaks on behalf of God who reaches out to pagans, those who do not know him. In doing this, God reveals once again the universality of his saving love. In cleansing the possessed man, Jesus also reaches out and heals someone who did not know him, who resisted the healing. And yet, God heals and draws praises and wonder from the demented man. The good news of salvation is meant for all without exception.
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