Mark 5:9

And he asked him,  “What is your name?” “My name,” he said, “is Legion, for there are many of us;”

my name is Legion
I have gathered myself
into a coherent unit
out of all the possible me’s

my heroes and bullies
parents relatives peers
have done their best
to shape me in their image

bosses and comrades in labor
teachers and TV commercials
added their values in
to be thanked and resisted

I am called and controlled
first by one name and then another
each a façade for a number
claiming my allegiance

who am I you ask
a waif of smoke
awaiting my descent of dove
borne and born from above

The exorcising command to leave is backed off from. There is time to delve deeper into what is going on.

An important first question is about identity. Until we can agree about who we are, an on-going relationship will play out of roles rather than personhood. It is always helpful to ask what another’s “Preferred Personal Pronouns” are.

The exiled man has already identified Jesus as related with a G*D of creation (and re-creation—healing). Now Jesus asks, rather than labels, the identity of a person of no place. This takes us out of the magic and power of name-knowing and sets both on a level plane.

So we hear a self-identity of “Legion”.

This is not an easy identity: “I am Legion”, begins in the singular and ends in the plural.

On a simple level we know that there are many internal wars and warriors. The reference to Rome suggests a battalion of 2,048 who need feeding. This is not a scene where people can be arranged by 100’s so we prepare for a different kind of feeding/healing process.

As we proceed we will find that this story moves from singular (meeting) to plural (naming) and back to singular (healing) again. This accords well with our own individual and communal being. Who we know ourselves to be is different from who others know us to be. Our growth plate is the intersection between these as both ourself and our various communities ebb and flow. To be able to talk person-to-person and person-to-community is a precious gift.

Mark 5:8

For Jesus had said, “Come out from the man, you foul spirit.”

even before repentance
is on the horizon
we prepare to act
as though it were true

when another stands in need
having seen it a long way off
we have already acted
a prevenient partner

when it is me in need
having lived with it forever
it is still a surprise
when relief comes BANG

we are whiplashed
while running to say begone
we are enveloped with welcome
our circle circled

stories of life
live in this dynamic
fade without it
are reprised without end

A command is not always a command as we are continuing a conversation after an order has been given. This willingness to listen further than a first decision reminds us of the importance of partnership and valuing horizontal relationships.

What a different story it would be if Jesus were to have every answer to every situation already written down on a cheat sheet to be pulled out, checked, and enforced.

With a little extra time the story can get played out a bit further and we will see where our values have been tempted and caught along the way. Bargaining with G*D, institutions, and one another reveals much about how we are engaged in the world.

A number of translations do not follow a sequence of Jesus first, chain-breaking man second, and back to Jesus. There is more of a sense of simultaneity or Jesus opening his mouth to speak. See the Easy-to-Read, Good News, New Life, New Testament for Everyone, and The Voice versions listed at James A. Kleist, in his translation found in The Memoirs of St. Peter: The Gospel According to St. Mark, Translated into English Sense-Lines, records it this way: “for He was about to say to him”.

For whatever reasons, the “standard” versions are oriented toward a linear presentation while the lesser-attested versions carry a more dynamic interaction of both Jesus and the yet unnamed man speaking and interacting at the same time. Your preference?

Mark 5:7

shrieking out in a loud voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? For God’s sake do not torment me!”

like love’s beginning
we deflect to denial
our fear of rejection
so overwhelming
so potentially deflating
so I’ll just die

we test and probe
you’re ugly
nobody likes you
why are you here
what are you trying to pull
I’ll never …

will this be the last word
can this amount of resistance
be overcome by a remaining flicker
time to turn our backs
fantasize what might have been

The versification here is suspect as verse 6 is focused on the specialness of Jesus and this verse shows the worst of regular humans. The specialness of humans cannot helpfully be separated from the any, otherwise, divine aspect. Such a duality eventually leads to a “divine right of kings” relationship within a community of people.

= = = = = = =

This person is all too well acquainted with torture. They know it even before they see it. Torture is the water they swim in. Shackles for the feet and chains for the arms are just the easiest to recognize of torture’s forms.

Early and late the occupation of a land and people requires physical, mental, relational, and spiritual torture. Each application brings further dehumanization.

Each affront brings forth a next stronger reaction. This is true whether it is earth responding to fracking with increased earthquakes or humans with volcanic eruptions when they have their identity robbed by systems intended to privilege some over all.

With this in mind, the next question is what torture does this Jesus have in mind?

We might hear this serially-bound person mutter, “I have identity as a demoniac. Who will I be if I don’t have that and am still in my own country that has turned me into acting demonically?” This question is our land-locked question, just as it was a question asked by the disciples at sea when a storm was stilled (4:41). “Who is this? What does this have to do with me?”

First a kneeling and flattering address to set up the next gambit—exorcise the exorcist. Knowing that there are chains strong enough to predestine me alongside Sisyphus, it becomes important to get an agreement, a swearing, similar to a legislated “Protected Concerted Activity” for an employee where the employer can fire at will. While socially labeled mad, there is good worldly wisdom in their dealings.

Mark 5:6

Catching sight of Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed to the ground before him,

there seems to be ever so much prologue
before we finally get to the action
time is bided and authority gained
stages are set and opportunities provided
today seems like one more day of prep
we go through motions upon motions

out of all our prior urgencies
it does appear today is the day
this the hour minute moment
we were seen and saw in return afar
in less time than time can be divided into
an expected unexpected arrives

in no time at all we are in a presence
revealing ourself beyond intention
facing another revealed self
a mutual admiration society in worship
one seeing their salvation in the other
one seeing their belovedness in the other

Fear is always looking around for the next danger. Avoid if you can, placate where you can, puff-up when needed, fight when cornered. There is no order in which these responses to a threat come forth. The above sequence of escalation only suggests a variety of protective actions.

In some ways this grave-dweller recognizes a stronger power and doesn’t start with confrontation and accusation as the demoniac in the synagogue (1:21-28). Here is an example of bargaining to get the best deal possible—to stay in the region.

Having dealt with strength against strength, and besting all adversaries, a developed sense of place easily becomes personal and protected. And so a person whose strength is in the severity of their wounds comes running to guard their space, to argue their case.

We begin with the physical running toward, coming to a screeching halt, a dropping to a knee. While προσκυνέω (proskyneō) can indicate an extended genuflection of worship, here it is more likely restricted to issues of strength/rank and to be a sign of humble obeisance in the presence of a person of power you cannot control except, perhaps, by flattery. It may even go further than a kneeling and extend into a flat-out prostration.

We have both cosmic and colonial powers in this scene. A new vision of horizontal partnership only begun and a basic measuring rod of colonial rule (economic/militaristic/religious)—turning people into commodities and an ever-growing expendable class.

Mark 5:5

Night and day alike, he was continually shrieking in the tombs and among the hills, and cutting himself with stones.

self-abuse is self-limiting
self-limitation is not a therapy
awareness too periodic
evasions too plentiful

whether pre- or post-Freudian
dealing with demons or ego
is mostly a failing proposition
insight and exorcism insufficiently systemic

warfare advancing one trench at a time
in a time of arbitrary drones
protects personal proclivities
from multi-disciplinary interventions

wilderness abandoned
reveals not wilderness
but our own wilderness
multi-layered abandonment

When, day-in and day-out (24/7), we find ourselves powerless in the face of captivity by an overwhelming external or internalized oppression we admit it and start on a new way of living.

Before this recog­ni­tion we are likely to cut ourself off from ourself and others—literally as well as figuratively.

A tomb is an apt image for such personal and social dislocation.

To the reigning structures, this behavior is evidence of an individual bad apple rather than a signifier of something seriously wrong with the mechanisms of social ranking not effectively challenged by the majority who go along with the latest façade of power. A result is a bitter cycle of fewer resources going to fewer people leading to more need that is even less capable of being affected by tinkering with welfare formulas. In fact this behavior validates those in power.

We have reached here a self-defeat of powerlessness and a confirmation that there is nothing that can be done to help some people. Missing here is a picture of healthy partnerships among people of varying gifts and needs. The complexity here justifies a cutting through the confusions and living by the externalizing desires of status and power.

As we deal with this representative of all the lost who have accepted anti-shadow projections received from those with power over others, it will be important to listen to a response that doesn’t determine, ahead of time, a preferred methodology of healing. This important moment needs more reflection than a reliance on faith.

Mark 5:4

for, though he had many times been left secured with fetters and chains, he had snapped the chains and broken the fetters to pieces, and no one could master him.

external control brings revolutionary fervor
freedom is a foretaste of heaven
until freedom tries to control freedom
in which case it is hell for all

no one is strong enough to avoid revolt
against their strongest strength
no one is wise enough to avoid questions
of their most cogent and beautiful aphorism

from coaxing day and clay forward
to forcibly exiling a step out of line
to invincibly guarding life’s sustainability
journeys need joining not ending

Binding another, hand and foot, means they are an official “nobody”. We do that with official slavery by violence. We also do it in more subtle ways such as wages. People are enslaved by way of whips and fountain pens.

In addition to our usual expectation of someone needing a straitjacket because they are “mad”, be sure to factor in sheer anger at being dismissed. “Control”, here, may be read as “Silence”. Given the ways in which Jesus has asked for those healed to be silent about their new life situation, Jesus, here, is about to unsilence someone. With references to both military and industrial/economic (mega-swinery) oppressions, we might wonder if we need an up-dated loosing of complaints about structural slavery in our time and place.

It is labels like “mad”, “crazy”, “liberal”, “unrealistic”, and the like that are used to control/silence whistle-blowers and others recognizing pain and waste. Those, like Socrates and Jesus, who use questions and parables are always open to charges of corrupting the young and vulnerable when we are obviously in the best of all possible systems—for those in charge.

At some point “toughness” runs out of toughness. The falsity of violence and its avoidance becomes evident enough that sufficient mini-resistances are accumulated and Empires, Institutions, Corporations crack and eventually crumble. This is a potential transition from the way power works to the way mercy gambols within and between lives. A faint unchained melody reaches the edges of consciousness through a variety of Ways and clarifies through actual experiences beyond creedal expressions—good news worth a changed life.

Mark 5:3

and who made his home in the tombs. No one had ever been able to secure him, even with a chain;

restraints are never a long-term solution
they deeply chafe the soul
adding torture outside to that inside
multiplying wilderness by wilderness
pitting strength against strength
blocking a flow of communal compassion
the very substance of we
drains faster than it can be filled
again and again the smoothest way
exaggerates the smallest of bumps

When we live by the chain we are threated by those who are able to break our chains.

The death which occurs to those who do the binding is worse than ironic, it is karmic.

The values by which chains are forged have been compromised by the promise of power and eternity. This “city set on a hill” will always shine. This is the appeal of “collective narcissism”. Being part of a bigger team that can impose its will on a lesser team, weaker citizen, denigrated human, gives evidence that we will always prevail. Of course this runs counter to the need to expend so much defending current privileges with ever lessening resources. Eventually these lines cross and it is time for the makers of chain to be in chains.

Because the consequences are delayed for those who first shave corners of communal values and, later, the closer those delayed consequences come the more they are dismissed as inconceivable, course correction is always decades too late.

As grass will come up through cement, so chains will be broken.

The more a G*D (by any name) is empowered above all and promises of Heaven (by any name) are touted, the more a religion (by any name) or nation (by any name) or in-group (by any name) defines itself by not being a loser like (any scapegoat name here)—the more the grave to which others are sent will erupt.

While collective healing eventuates in individual healing, it is a most difficult and misunderstood route to travel. However the truth of the other way around, individual healing leading to collective healing, has even less to stand on.

There is more at play here than individual madness. This is a critical event revealing the military/economic/religious trinity that so disadvantages those deemed expendable by those trying for an expansion of their resources to provide an extension of power and ease.

Reducing people to nothings brings uncontrollable rage.

Mark 5:2

and, as soon as Jesus had got out of the boat, he met a man coming out of the tombs, who was under the power of a foul spirit,

zombie attacks are all the rage
whichever way we turn tombs
vomit forth those dead to me
pushed in my face
unavoidable as suffering

intaken and held breath
focuses our reptilian brain
like calls to like
will we lose our brain
will they gain Paradise Rest

all too soon a confrontation
at best we are down sixty forty
if we pit strength against strength
so we simply stand loose
and shake out compassion

with nothing to go on but integrity
expectations are slowly released
a surprising smile comes unbidden
as we envision our own clean tomb
and offer a bottle of Pine-Sol®

Much takes place in boats. Begin to vision earth as a boat sailing among the stars.

The church has seen itself as a boat on but not of the world.

Boats have been places of refuge (Noah and his Ark), of calling, of teaching, and of going to another side. To remain in a boat provides some degree of separation from “chaos”. To leave such boats is to enter into a dangerous world of creation and all the variety that entails.

Sure enough, leave a boat and we have to deal with more than our own internals; we are face-to-face with more than can be reasonably dealt with.

On shore we find ourselves between a devil and a sea—either deep wilderness or exactly the place to learn from wilderness.

It is on a shore—wherever separations, divisions, and their accompanying fears are found—that we find that liminal space where mystics can never say more than they know, only less. In that less we are faced with choices along a continuum from “follow” to “betray”.

When we simply set out for that greener pasture or the other side, we know there are going to be moments like this one. The not knowing works us up. Thankfully we are now out of the realm of every nasty option and facing the one before us. This we can deal with from our practice of compassion, mercy, and reservoir of belovedness. We may even transform it into a Parable or Paradise.

Mark 5:1

They came to the other side of the sea – the region of the Gerasenes;

happenstance or planning
offers an encounter
with very otherly anothers
otherwise quite avoidable

in either case a choice
offers itself about response
to accent smell fashion sense
since we’re used to our own

might beauty shine through
offering a point of contact
in an otherwise alien land
bearing all our fear of wilderness

it is here where we’re away
a gift of travel offers
its mirror to our usual soul
opportunity for guest hospitality

With various texts and spellings, it is difficult to pin the setting down to a general area. Pompey had taken this area in 63 BCE and it is a place of Roman strength. Retired army veterans have land given them. This is also a land that was an early adopter of Jesus’ Way sending participants to early councils such as those moved to Seleucia and Chalcedon.

This difficulty of location opens options of seeing this as a midrash on Exodus 23:28. Levine/Brettler note the Hebrew word “gerash” (expel) is used in some accounts of nations being driven out of their lands that the Israelites might take their place. Given the Roman presence, what follows is a deeply political commentary.

In addition to reading backward, we are able to compare the external occupation of the land by the Romans with a corresponding internal occupation of economic peonage to satisfy the privileges of a privileged class.

Myers asks his readers to:

Imagine our nation as a single living organism, with many parts. This organism bears the characteristics of the demon-possessed man (mightily self-destructive, out of control, isolated from community, living among the tombs, howling).

Myers continues by asking people to note the headlines all around them and to ask:

Are we as a people possessed? Who is crying out for deliverance? When the liberating power of God approaches, do they ‘beg the power of liberation to leave their neighborhood’ (5:17)?

How clear are you about present internal/external occupations?

Mark 4:41

But they were struck with great awe, and said to one another, “Who can this be that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

we marvel at that outside
our frame of reference
without wondering what it has to do
within systems of habit and desire

this externalization of questions
protects us from following too quickly
where a new thought or emotion
would pull and push us instead

by the time we have polled each other
metaphoric wind and sea are significant
awe fear wonder fade from view
wilderness again protected us from us

The disciples evi­dence the same amaze­ment as those who witnessed healings, the besting of legalists at their own game, and evocative stories.

Up to this point the disciples could be relatively cool. Following Jesus on his rounds and taking notes has been informative.

When it came to their skin being in the game, things changed. This sounds very familiar of our own engagement with our Hesitation (timidity) and Hope (trust)—try your own language for the exercise suggested for the previous verse.

This question of “Who?” is one that will continue through Mark. It is a question to be asked not only of Jesus, but ourselves. Who have we been? Who are we now? Who are we becoming?

Perkins notes, “Beginning with Jesus’ move onto a boat to teach in 4:1, the sea provides the fixed geographical location for the narrative world in Mark’s Gospel through 8:26.” Then, with Peter’s confession, “the question of Jesus’ identity shifts to the cross.”

The deep of watery chaos and the deep of dark death are important wilderness markers that bring us to a sense of urgency to make sense of our life and the lives (animate and inanimate) around us. Mark’s hurry-up and look-back keep us unsettled enough to crack our usual belief structures that we might suspend our disbelief long enough to move beyond astonishment and awe to identification with a larger identity.

Eventually our partnership will not be based on doings such as healing by word and touch, rhetorical victory, or nature spectacle, but on a state of being that floats on chaos and dives into death with a joy able to transform Joy into Mercy and Empire into Community.