My name is Legion. Oh, that’s not the name my parents gave me. But no one calls me by the name I was given when I was born. Everyone knows me as Legion. I don’t even try to correct them anymore.
I was born just like anyone else here in Gerasa. My parents loved me, and I loved them. They took care of me. But I was always just a little bit different from my brothers and sisters. At first, people didn’t say anything. They might have looked at me a little funny, but they tried hard to ignore that there was something wrong with me. I mean, at first all that was unusual about me was that I was kind of a loner. I really didn’t have any friends. And I didn’t care that I didn’t have friends. Honestly, just being around people was pretty painful for me. My family thought I was just shy…no big deal. I’d grow out of it. Lots of people are shy, right?
But then I began to hear the voices. I thought everyone else could hear the voices too…at first. It was like there were conversations going on all around me. With lots and lots of people. And the voices were not all friendly, either. So I began to talk back to them. Sometimes they were trying to hurt me, I thought, so I tried to run away from them too. I would run and run, and I would fight anyone who tried to stop me. And honestly, I don’t really remember if I hurt anyone or not. And at the time, I didn’t feel any pain, at least not physical pain. All I remember is being terrified.
I must have been really strong, too. I remember running as far as I could possibly go, as fast as I could.
I ended up in the tombs, in the mountains. And I hid there, even though God’s chosen people, the Jews, say men will be defiled if they stay here. But what difference does it make, I thought. I am unclean anyway. I might as well stay here. And the voices calmed down a little, to a dull roar. They weren’t screaming anymore, at least.
But then I got hungry.
So I went back home, back to my family, the ones who love me. But when I walked in the door, they all ran away from me, crying and screaming, Don’t hurt us! Leave us alone! What? Why would I hurt my family? I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything. I went straight for the food and began eating as fast as I could. And for just a moment, the voices quieted themselves. I finally felt a little better. I took a deep breath, and turned around to face my family…but they weren’t there. Instead, there stood the strongest, biggest men in the town. I looked at them, bewildered. What are they doing? This is my house, my family’s food. But the looks on their faces…they looked like they were terrified of me. Not only that, all of them carried chains and shackles. They cornered me in the room like I was some kind of animal, and they bound me so that I could not leave again. My family came back in. I could see the hurt and shame in my family’s eyes. The strong men put me outside of our home where I stayed for awhile. Whenever I was myself, I felt so ashamed of what had happened. But most of the time, I wasn’t really myself. The voices got louder and louder until I couldn’t hear myself think. The voices said things like, “You’re going to die, you’re going to burn in hell, you’re a sinner, your family would be better off if you died. They don’t love you. You have brought shame on your family. Go dwell among the dead, that’s where you belong.” The voices were constantly talking, constantly telling me how I needed to die. I couldn’t even sleep. My family would throw food to me, and I ate it. But I longed for them to touch me, to talk to me, to tell me they loved me. But they were afraid of me.
The voices got louder and louder until I could stand it no longer. I got really angry, and I guess I actually broke the chains and the shackles. I can’t believe I did it but the voices kept on and on and on and I guess the demons inside me made me have superhuman strength. And I ran back to the tombs where I belonged. And I tore off my filthy clothes and sat there, cutting myself with the rocks that I found lying around me. I’m sure I was a sight, covered in mud and blood, and naked, rolling around on the ground, screaming, trying to silence the voices that only I could hear.
Even though my family was very frightened of me, they still loved me. And deep down, I loved them, and missed them. From time to time, friends of my family would venture to the Tombs, corral me, and bring me back to my home. They had to put me in chains to do it, but they did it, and dragged me home, bleeding and naked. I cannot imagine the pain and shame I caused my family, but I couldn’t help it. The voices in my head were so incredibly loud, and incessant, and constantly told me to do things that weren’t normal. And I did them. I did what they asked because I just wanted them to shut up and leave me alone.
I told my family I hated them. And the voice that came out of my mouth didn’t even sound like me. It wasn’t me. It was the voice, the voice of the voices in my head. I was truly tortured, and I tortured my family, even though that could not have been farther from what I wanted to do. The voices in my head took over my voice, my body. I no longer had a voice. Everything that came out of my mouth was not of my speaking. It was one of the voices in my head, the strongest one. I had no control over my head, my body, my life, nothing. I lost many years of my life living that way, possessed by the demons in my body. I wished I was dead. My family probably wished that I was dead, too.
So, how is it that I am standing here talking to you today? Well, that’s an amazing story that I’ve been telling to anyone who will listen to me.
I was in the tombs…with my demons…naked, filthy, bloody, hungry. I saw a boat coming across the Sea of Galilee. A man was standing in the boat. When I saw him, all the voices in my head started screaming like they were in pain! Always before, they had only been yelling at me, telling me things to do, to do to others, to do to myself. But now the voices actually seemed scared! They were almost ignoring me, talking among themselves, saying something about the man standing in the boat being the Son of God. Somewhere deep in my mind, I knew that this might be my chance to get my old life back. So I got up and started running toward the shore, hoping to catch the man in the boat before he was able to get away from me. When the voices started paying attention to me again, it was too late. I got to the shore just as the boat did. I was scared, terrified of what this man, this powerful man, would do to me when he saw me, but I really didn’t have anything to lose. Maybe he would just kill me, and I would no longer hear these voices.
Jesus immediately said, “Come out of the man, unclean spirit!” I fell on my knees, and the voices started coming out of my mouth, “What have I to do with you, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me.” What? How dare you. You demons have been tormenting me non-stop, you have ruined my life, but you don’t want Jesus to torment you? I prayed that Jesus wouldn’t listen to the voices, but I was afraid to hope. After all, I am a Gentile. The Jews don’t typically associate with us. And of course, no one was associating with me, neither Gentile nor Jew at this point.
But Jesus looked down at me and said, “What is your name?” Before I could answer, the voices said, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” Then the voices began to beg Jesus to not send them out of the country.
There was a herd of pigs near us, about 2000 of them. Jesus gave them permission to enter the pigs, so they did. When the demons left my body, I went limp. I was exhausted. But as I lay there on the sand, there was an awesome quietness, a peace that I had not felt in years. The only person in my body was me for the first time in a long time.
The pigs? Well, when the demons who had been inside me entered the pigs, they went crazy, just like I did when they entered me. I have never seen pigs act the way they did. They ran as fast as they could toward a cliff over the river, ran right off the edge of the cliff, and drowned in the sea.
I looked up at Jesus. He was looking down at me with such kindness, such compassion. He helped me up, helped me get washed off in the sea, and then gave me something to wear. I sat back down at His feet and we talked.
I have never felt such peace as I did at that time. But it was odd because all around us it was anything but peaceful.
The swineherders ran into town when their pigs were drowning in the Sea of Galilee. I thought they were running to tell my family about this great miracle that Jesus had performed, but I was wrong. They were all terrified. And they weren’t too happy when their pigs drowned in the sea. I guess I can see their point. The pigs were their livelihood. Anyway, they brought many of the townspeople back to us. Imagine the surprise on their faces when they saw me sitting at the feet of Jesus, dressed, without chains and shackles, talking and acting normally.
But they were still scared of Jesus. And they asked him to leave immediately. Jesus calmly began to get in the boat. I jumped up, and begged him that I should go with him. But he said no. I was heart broken. What kind of life will I have here? They are all afraid of Jesus, the pigs have all drowned and many people no longer have a way to make a living, and all I am is a reminder of everything that has happened.
But Jesus asked me to stay here, go home to my family and tell everyone what God has done for me and how much compassion He had for me, a Gentile. So that’s what I’ve done. That’s the least I can do for the man who saved my life. So I went home. It took a long time for my family to truly trust me again. I can tell by the look in their eyes that they still wonder what really happened, and if I’m okay. I just keep on trying to show them that I’m normal, that the demons don’t live in me any more.
Some people don’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God. But I do. And I’m telling everyone what God did for me. And I can tell you something else…Jesus is not just for the Jews. Jesus loves everybody, even me.
The story of the Gerasene demoniac is a very significant one in the Bible. It was told through the eyes of the Jewish culture. It starts out by saying that the country of the Gerasenes was opposite of Galilee. It was opposite not just in direction, but in many other ways. There Gerasenes were considered to be enemies of the Galileans. And they were Gentiles, so they were considered unclean.
Ancient myths about evil spirits said that if you knew the name of the demon, you can dominate it. So even though Jesus I’m sure already knew the name of the demon, he asked for the name. And the name, Legion, was significant as well. A legion was a major unit in the Roman Army, and it consisted of 4-6 thousand men. For the Jewish listeners who had been under Roman rule and oppression, this was especially meaningful.
The demons begged Jesus not to send them back to the abyss. The abyss was hell. Ancient mythology said that the demons came from hell to torture people. So instead, Jesus sent them into pigs. Again, this was symbolic. Pigs were unclean animals in the Jewish culture, and the Gerasenes raised pigs. That was just one more reason for the Galileans to hate the Gerasenes.
But when the pigs rushed off of the cliff into the Sea of Galilee, the Gerasenes didn’t see unclean animals being destroyed. They didn’t see the pigs as unclean, they saw them as a way to survive, a way to make a living. And their livelihood was destroyed by this man Jesus.
And even though the demoniac is in his right mind now, healed, clothed, normal, the Gerasenes are not excited about this miracle that Jesus has performed. They are afraid of Jesus, and ask him to go back to his own country where he belongs. And even though Jesus had his disciples with him, as well as the women who were accompanying them, some of whom had been healed, he told this man to go back to his family and tell them what God had done for him. This was before Jesus had even sent the disciples out on their first mission.
So I ask you today, how many times do we ignore what God has done for us. In this story, Jesus sent the demoniac back home to tell others what God had done for him. God blesses us every day. But because we have come to expect it, we don’t even see those blessings anymore. We worry about what others may think of us, that we’re bragging, or we’re a little out there. But clearly, just as Jesus sent the demoniac back into the world, we are supposed to go back into the world and declare what God has done for us.