Monday, May 23, 2016

What is Your Name?

There is this interesting story in Mark 5 that is fairly familiar to most of us, but the way that it plays out leaves me with more than a few questions. The story takes place in a cemetery on the Gerasene side of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus encounters a demon-possessed man who cannot even be bound by chains.

True to every other encounter that Jesus has with a demon in the Gospels, as the Son of God approaches the possessed man, the demon begins screaming about His true identity. Why are you bothering me now, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? (v. 7) And Jesus, true to every other encounter that He has with a demon in the Gospels, immediately commands the demon to come out of the man. (v. 8)

What happens next is where it gets a bit tricky. Verse 9 says, "Jesus asked him, 'What is your name?' He told Jesus, 'My name is Legion, because there are many of us.'" 

Now, every time I've read this verse, and every time I've heard this verse discussed by others who have read it, it's just assumed that since the demon answered, Jesus must have been talking to the demon. But the other day as I was reading something in reference to this story, it struck me that this would be inconsistent with everything else we know about Jesus of Nazareth.

He was never interested in giving the demons a voice. 

He never let the demons speak in His presence. He silenced them. Every time. He wasn't into having conversations with the demons; He issued commands. Not one tiny part of His ministry was devoted to convincing the people that demons were real or to giving the demons in His story a name. It's not who He is. It's not who God is. There is not one demon named in all of the Bible, except here - in Mark 5.  And it's just so hard for me to believe, among all the evidence, that Jesus broke character here so that we would have something so unimportant as a name for the demon in the Gerasene cemetery.

(The Greek, by the way, does not offer much clarity. The translation given above is accurate for the Greek words used in verse 9, which is the generic third person in its various forms: "him" and "he." The "he" is actually just a verbal suffix to indicate person/gender/number, which makes it the most non-specific indicator possible.)

So what does this mean? It means, I think, that we've been reading this story wrong. At least, I have. Because I don't think Jesus was speaking to the demon at all. 

I think He was talking to the man.

I think Jesus approached the demonaic, the demon began shouting about the Son of God, and Jesus cast the demon out of the man. I believe that Jesus then turned to the man and asked the man, "What is your name?" The answer was not supposed to be "Legion;" it was supposed to be "Bill." 

Because I think this is what Jesus does. I think Jesus comes to the people who haven't been seen in a long time, who have sort of faded into obscurity, who have been locked away by pain or shame or whatever. And I think He looks into their eyes, sees them, really sees them, and starts a conversation. I think Jesus is the kind of Guy who goes in and invites those without a voice to speak. I think it makes so much more sense, in the story of Jesus, if this question in verse 9 is directed to the man and not the demon. 

And I think it makes more sense at the end of this story, when the whole town comes out to see this man, fully clothed and in his right mind, sitting and talking with Jesus. That's what Jesus does. He talks with people, not demons. He has conversations with people, not Legions. He gives men an opportunity, an invitation, even, to speak; He silences evil. 

But we can't get away from the way the story develops, either. Jesus turns to the man and asks him, "What is your name?" But it is the demon who answers. It is the demon who speaks. We never know the real answer to this question; we never get the man's name.

It makes me wonder...about my own story. About your story. About the stories we share and write together. It makes me often our demons speak for us, as though the question were posed to them all along. It makes me often my demons speak for me....

No comments:

Post a Comment