Sunday 19th June 2016, Trinity 4
by Revd Kate Tuckett
My name is Legion. What is yours?
It’s hard to imagine a more horrific week on our news screens. From the brutal massacre in the gay nightclub in Orlando, to Nigel Farage standing in front of a poster of refugees that screams ‘Breaking point’, to the tragic murder of Jo Cox, it seems that something has broken. This is not the right place to try and analyse the complexity of the issues at stake, and I am certainly not the right person to do it, but it’s clear that we are looking at a deadly cocktail of homophobia, inadequate gun controls, radicalisation, mental illness, racism, stereotyping, and an inability to express disagreement in ways that do not spiral into violence and rage.
My name is Legion.
We’ve just heard the story of a man who called himself Legion, but that is not his true name. That is not who he is. It is rather what has become of him, what has happened to him. This is a man who has experienced a type of emotional and spiritual disruption, a disintegration that all of us have experienced at some time, and that our world may be experiencing in a particularly acute way this week – or that section of the world in which we have the luxury of expecting relative peace and security.
And this is a man who has been so tormented by these demons, by the disruption in his life, that he has been driven from human contact. He no longer lives in the town, but among the tombs. His demons have snuffed his humanity from him.
We rightly get twitchy when we read stories of exorcisms. Anyone presenting the symptoms of this man today who would referred to a psychiatric hospital – and rightly so. It would be very foolish to do otherwise – as perhaps some of the events in the news this week has borne out – and it would also be foolish to discount the huge, God-given progress that has been made in our understanding and treatment of mental illness since biblical times. But I think we can make these demons rather more dramatic than they actually are and when we do this, we can make this story irrelevant to us.
Because the demons aren’t little red men with horns and pitchforks. They are more real and more frightening than that, so common that we risk ignoring them. Spiritual writer Richard Rohr refers to our shadow – those things within us which we refuse to acknowledge about ourselves and which we desperately don’t want others to see. These demons are those things that cause us to avoid looking squarely at our reflections for very long, in fear that the demon will force us to acknowledge who we truly are.
C S Lewis, in his classic memoir Surprised by Joy tells of a moment when he looked into the mirror of his soul long enough to see the demons. And he says ‘There I found what appalled me: a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds. My name was Legion.’
My name is Legion. What is yours?
It’s very easy when we read stories like we have read in the news this week to take the moral high ground, because, thank God, most of us don’t go around shooting one another. But if we draw an arbitrary line somewhere, and banish those in whom we see disintegration of the proportions we have witnessed this week to a place apart from us, I think we run a great risk and we run the world a great risk.
Because this is a reading about all of us, and the events of this week have been a warning to all of us. Usually we are able to keep our shadows hidden, even if they slowly corrode our souls. But on occasion they multiply in force. We are all Legion.
Jesus confronts the man and asks the name of the demons. And it is once these demons are named that they can be dealt with. Legion is named and Jesus casts out the many demons. The man is freed from what binds him, what dehumanises him, what leaves him naked and vulnerable and living among the tombs: he is found clothed and in his right mind, sitting at the feet of Jesus.
It seems to me that there is a very fluid line between dehumanised and dehumanising, and relating this story to the events of this week, I’m not entirely sure who sits where. Perhaps to leap to conclusions may be too simple and glib and to join in the shrill and angry voices calling for vengeance. But we can very easily fail to recognise our own capacity for violence, our own demons. We too are Legion.
We all have our own prejudices and resentments and fearfulness. The ways we dehumanise people are many, individually and politically and indeed we’ve seen some of this of this this week. We see it in the dehumanisation of refugees; of gay and lesbian people; of those with mental illness; of those who are disabled; those who are elderly, homeless; criminals; all who are different from us, who challenge our comfortable status quo and stretch our understanding of what it is to be a neighbour. Whatever our demons are, their mechanism is always one of threat and violence. And we may ask as Christians how can we stand in non-violent witness and resistance, how can we stand firm to our faith that God can defeat and re-order the most disordered powers that afflict individuals and communities. However warped and fallen these powers are, they are ultimately redeemable by God.
When the man sees Jesus he falls down before him and shouts at the top of his voice ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus Son of the most High God?’ The man knows that Jesus is nothing like him and yet something within the man can still recognise Jesus, the one who can offer peace and salvation, the one who is whole, complete and holy.
We can only ever recognise that which we already know. Despite the presence of legion, and despite all the shadows that we ourselves carry, all the angers and the violence of which we are capable, this man was never completely lost or destroyed and neither are we. Jesus can offer an image of who we truly are, Jesus can reveal the beauty of our creation, and however fragmented and distorted our lives have become, however lost and shattered and dehumanised and humiliating our identities seem to be, there is always the possibility of redemption.
We are Legion. But for every story of Legion there is the possibility of another story. If we can name our demons, those things that dehumanise us and inspire us to dehumanise others, they can be redeemed, and there is another story of how our lives can be put back together, how we can be given back ourselves, how we can be made whole, how we can sit at the feet of Jesus, fully clothed and in our right minds.
We are Legion. But that’s not the end of the story. The demons don’t have to have the final word. Return to your home and tell how much God has done for you. That’s the story of our lives that Jesus wants to be told.