Tell me your Name: Demons & Pigs
June 23, 2013
Bonnie A. Perry
Come Holy Spirit….
Please be seated.
The crowds are big and growing each day: a servant healed, a son raised, stories told, religious authorities prodded. He is the sensation. In a place and time without cable or internet, he is the attraction. He is their own personal reality TV show. So people come to see, to hear, to gather and afterwards to compare notes and dissect the stories.
Jesus’ group, because that sort of attention can be wearying, his group has hopped in the boats and crossed the several miles of the Sea of Galilee mostly to get a break. Once on the other side they are no longer in a place where Jews are the majority. The unspoken hope is they will find a day or so to be left alone. They have made their way to the Gerasenes’ land. There is some confusion does this story take place near Gerasa with is some 30 miles inland from the Sea of Galilee or is it Gadara—a smaller town much closer to the sea. Either way each is a gentile dominated area. They Jews are not there so who is going to care about their arrival or presence.
However, Jesus no sooner sets foot on the Gerasene soil, than a man comes to him from the tombs. A tormented soul, possessed in some way, who says to Jesus, “What do you want? Do not harass me! Why do you torment me?” Whoa—so much for a little beach get away.
The man is naked. He exists in the tombs amidst the decaying, rotting bodies of the town’s buried citizens. He is a man, we find out, who is possessed. Possessed by demons, mental illness what name we call it matters little. He is a man existing on the double yellow lines of life—in between, a time limited balancing act. Is he human or is he a demon? Is he alive or is he dead? He is betwixt, between both lanes.
Because of the demons that reside in his mind when he is in town the citizens chain him up, shackle him down. This restraint among the living he cannot bear. So with the strength only seen in the desperate he breaks those bonds, leaves the living and goes to dead. There he is naked, beyond vulnerable making his way between the putrid decaying corpses and the scavenging insects, rodents and animals. Is this a life he is living?
Then Jesus appears. The man approaches, screaming at Jesus. “Leave me alone. Do not torment me.” He has heard Jesus command the demons to leave or some such thing.
What does Jesus do? What does Jesus do? Please remember this please—What does Jesus do? He asks the man his name. ‘What is your name?’ We do not ask beasts their names or expect animals to offer us their names nor would we ever inquire of a demons what it would prefer to be called—we ask humans. We ask people, with whom we’d like to be in relationship. We say to them, “So tell me your name.”
“Legion,” the man says. “My name is ‘Legion’” for many demons had entered him. Legion it is. Then the man, or the demons, your pick the story is some 2000 years old you can read into it what you will. Some entity, residing in the man’s mind asks Jesus if rather than being cast into the abyss—“Can we please go into those pigs over yonder?” ‘Why not?’ says Jesus. Why not go into the pigs. Jesus is a Jew, it’s not like he cares about the pigs. Thus we may have the first biblical record of pigs functioning as “scapegoats”.
Here’s the thing—most who know this story remember the part about the pigs. They remember that the pigs run down the hill, or in an older translation they rush headlong off the cliff (fail to fly) and land in the Sea of Galilee. The pigs perish. That is what they recall. I am sure that this will make a most riveting scene when HBO gets around to filming this portion of the bible.
The folks who were witnesses as the swine flew….ran back to town and told everyone what happened. How the pigs are now dead. Yet having now made the obligatory quip about pigs flying it’s not where I want to focus.
What I find most compelling is that when the townspeople return to find the pigs in the sea they also find Legion, a man who was chained, sitting next to Jesus. Clothed, cleaned and in his right mind. I want to focus upon and ponder a man, exiled, now cared for, neglected and now tended to, sitting peacefully with the strangers who recognize his humanity.
The townspeople are terrified. Is it because of the change in Legion’s demeanor? Is it because the pigs became possessed and are now dead? Is it because the pigs were a major component of the town’s economy. The major consumer of said pigs being the garrisoned Roman army? And now with the supply gone the town has a whole new ‘legion’ for which they will have to contend. The townspeople are terrified, but that’s not my focus.
‘What’s your name?’ He asked him his name. Isn’t that always the way? Every prayer of substance, every prayer that matters doesn’t it always begin with, “Tell me your name?” Here we see, in the midst of all the other special effects, the power of our names, the beginning of all relationships.
On this bright summer morning may we remember and take heart, that no matter where we find ourselves, be we solid, upright citizens disturbed by a sudden downturn in the economy, or distressed, distraught and overwhelmed shells of ourselves existing in the tombs, Jesus comes to us with only one question: What is your name? The question that begins all relationships.
On the shores of galilee, on the streets of Chicago—“So, tell me your name?”
Copyright Bonnie A. Perry June 2013