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My name is Legion, for we are many: Mark 5:1-20

‘My name is Legion – for we are many!’

They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes.[a] When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”

Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12 The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13 He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

14 Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15 When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. 17 Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region. 18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis[b] how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

Mark 5:1-20

Horsham. 9th June 2024
‘My name is Legion, for we are many’

This story deals with a very dramatic incident of demonic possession. Such a concept was ‘quite familiar to people in Palestine in the days of Jesus but quite alien to us.’ (Barclay, Loc 2543).

Most of us are not used to thinking of our world as being populated by demons. Some people feel more comfortable approaching this story as an encounter with a man who is suffering from some kind of psychological disorder. That’s fine. You can find your own place in that conversation, but  to understand what happened, we need to accept that to the people of Jesus’ day, demons were both real and ever present. 

It was widely assumed that demons were most likely to be found in dark, deserted places, so here, probably in the early hours of the morning, is a man emerging from the tombs. The place of the dead would be an obvious place for demons. Here is a strong man, dressed in rags, and given to bouts of violence. Local people would avoid him. They would doubtless have been fearful of his immense strength and also of the risk of contamination by the powers of evil.

If he were ill, I have been asked, rather than under demonic control, why would Jesus treat him as if he was possessed. A contemporary approach to mental health would rightly abhor an intervention based on that assumption. The answer is, I think, surprisingly simple. I believe that Jesus wants us to meet people at their point of greatest need, and here He is doing just that. The man utterly believes that he is possessed by not one, but huge number of demons. That, then, is the point at which Jesus meets him, and that is the condition from which Jesus delivers him.

If we prefer to take the alternative view, that this is a case of chronic psychological disorder rather than deliverance from demons, we are witnessing an extraordinary and supernatural healing which affirms the power of Christ to respond to psychological as well as physical needs.

Christ’s first direction that the demon should leave the man was, it seems, resisted. The spirits not only remains within the man, but they beg Christ not to torture them. This affirms that the demons are in fear of Christ (James 2:19). In many cultures, there is a belief that knowing the name of a person or a demon gives one a degree of control over them. ‘What is your name?’ says Jesus. Unable to resist such a question from the One who is the Son of God, the man, or the spirits within him, reply ‘My name is Legion, for we are many.’ For me, there is something extraordinary and powerful in this name, reflecting the desperation and hopelessness of the man.


The Roman army was divided into fighting units. A legion comprised 6000 troops. They were a strong unit and an extremely powerful fighting force, and they were capable of great violence. Like this poor man, who believes himself to be possessed by a small army of demons, they were best avoided.

We might read think that the departure of these spirits is contingent on Christ permitting them to move to a nearby herd of pigs. However It is Jesus, not the spirits, who are in control. He has a plan for this man and for the demons. The dispatch of the demons into a herd of pigs enable the man to see that they have departed from him, and so he, and others around him, can know that he is free. In order to be healed and restored, he needed to know that he had been delivered.

The tenure of the spirits within the pigs is fleeting because they immediately fling themselves into the waters and are killed. The suffering man can be convinced that his torturers are gone, and so his mental health is restored. He is healed.

The panic of the herdsmen, and fear of the local people are understandable. The transformation of their neighbour, dressed and in his own mind, is undeniable. For them, the destruction of a herd of pigs is terrifying.  They can only understand these things in terms of the supernatural. No wonder they want this small band of men who have arrived from the far side of the Lake to leave.

Not for the first time, having witnessed his power, someone wants to physically remain with Jesus. The message to this man, as to all of us who encounter Christ, is to return to our people and tell them what he has done for them.

’20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis[b] how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.’

Richard Jackson, West Sussex: LifePictureUK