When they came to Jesus, they found the possessed man sitting there, clothed and in his right mind – the man who had had the ‘Legion’ in him – and they were awe-struck.
we come running to a disaster
expecting the worst
ready with a favorite conspiracy
eager to blame
not ready to be surprised
by a small blessing
in a larger values question
caught between fear awe wonder
caught off guard reveals our practice
of enough amid abundance
shaping our premeditated response
of mercy and joy
Translators of “holy words” are notorious for protecting those words through conscious and unconscious Bowdlerizing—making things sound pious and pretty rather than accurate.
Here we have two such obfuscations. The first is in the third line, “with many demons”. This is not a parallelism, but is redundant from the end of the second line and covers up the public, plural, and political overtones of τὸν λεγιῶνα (the Legion) by using “many demons”.
The second distortion is a critical narrative point for Mark’s reporting. The final word is here translated “awe”. The Greek word ἐφοβήθησαν is better heard as “fear”. Strong’s Concordence says this word is translated as “fear” (62 times), “be afraid (23x), be afraid of” (5x) and as “reverence” or awe only once. While a case could be made for “awe” turned to “fear”, even as crowds make the same shift in their relationship with Jesus and play a part in his eventual murder by the state, it seems that a first response would be more fear-like—“Oh oh, can we trust this is not a trick and he’ll tear his clothes off and attack us?!”
A key question is what other softened phrasing have you spotted in your reading of the Bible. If you have not suspected that there is more irony and challenge than a pious reading will reveal, it suggests having put your trust in translators of the institution rather than a strong spirit unsatisfied that the status quo is sufficient for this day, much less tomorrow. A finer, closer, reading will bring a “changed heart” much sooner.