One of the more arresting yet disconcerting encounters in the life of Jesus is recorded in Mark 5, when He meets a man terrorized by demons. According to the text, this was a man who “lived among the tombs” (verse 3). Despite multiple attempts to restrain him, not even the chains were able to control his volatile behavior. Night and day he roamed the town, “howling and bruising himself with stones” (verse 5). Upon encountering Jesus, the demons within the man were paralyzed with fear: “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me” (verse 7). When Jesus asks the man, “What is your name?” he responds, “My name is Legion; for we are many” (verse 9).
As products of Western culture and given our advances in medical technology, psychology, and biochemistry, perhaps we feel too sophisticated to take the idea of demons seriously. Yet, this story from Mark 5, I believe, has never been more relevant than in 21st century America.
One description of Satan in the New Testament refers to him as “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). What a provocative image of evil in an age in which wireless technology has allowed us to be “connected” wherever we are, even as we are hopelessly disconnected from our identity as God’s beloved children. “Living among the tombs” seems an apt description of the time we spend in the earbud-enhanced privacy of our alternate realities, where constant access to technology drives us apart even when we are together. In our day and age, we don’t have to believe in demons to be given over to despair and distraction. We simply have to go wireless.
We are subjected to a thousand different voices competing for our attention. We present images of our lives through Facebook, Twitter, or other alternate realities, that are perhaps more reflective of who we want to be than who we actually are. In an age of relentless self-expression, do we really have any idea who we really are?
The question Jesus’ asks is a frightening one in a world given over to so many voices, so many images, so many screens, so many sounds, so many identities. In those four simple words – “What is your name?” – the demon possessed man’s entire identity (and ours!) is called into question. Whether or not we believe in the reality of demons, a truthful response to the question for many of us would be, “My name is Legion…for we are many.” Many voices, many activities, many interests, many influences.
Yet Jesus speaks words of life into the demon possessed man, emptying him of his torment, redeeming his soul, restoring him to his right identity. This, of course, was no magic trick but a signpost of things to come. Like all of Jesus’ miracles, this is not a suspension of the natural order but the restoration of the natural order. It is a glimpse of what the future is like. It calls us to imagine a future in which the world is no longer beleaguered by famine, violence, war and death.
And if it is possible for one person to transcend the madness and become something other than he or she once was, then it is possible for all of us. That means, of course, that God’s future is no longer a pipe dream. It means the future is upon us. The future is now. Time and time again in the life and ministry of Jesus we see the wonder and chaos of the future breaking into the present.
We are not given the name of this man who had become possessed by a demon. But we do know that his name was not Legion. He had a name assigned to him before the foundation of the world, a name he had lost touch with. And then, in the midst of his unending self-destructive behavior, in the midst of his round-the-clock angst, amid the pitiless darkness of the tombs, the power of God broke through and reestablished the man’s name, his identity as one created in the image of the Father.
This is not just his story.
This is our story.
As it was true for him, may it also be true for you.
(Patrick Craig is a graduate student at Duke University Divinity School)