When Jesus landed at the region of the Gerasenes he met a possessed man who lived among the tombs, naked and driven by the demons within him. Jesus asked him his name and was told ‘Legion’, with the explanation that there were many demons within him. The name could not surely be the one his parents chose for him at birth but one which had been acquired as a result of the action of the evil in him taking away the person he was meant to be. In my reflection at the noon Sunday service I looked at names and at this man’s predicament particularly. It started some interesting conversations after the service. One of the great joys of meeting for worship in Second Life is the chance to chat together with people from all over the world after the service.
The readings at the service were Psalm 22:19-28, Galatians 3:23-end, Luke 8:26-39.
When you joined Second Life I wonder how you decided what name to have. I suppose surnames are not so difficult as there is a limited choice but you still have to choose nevertheless. Then it comes to the first name. Do you go for something which sounds good with one of the surnames, such as our Treasurer who is called Tithe Sixpence? Do you stick with your own name from RL as Gareth, our worship leader has done? At least that saves confusion and there is no need to remember what name to answer to! I decided to choose a surname that is close to my maiden name and a first name which is the one I would have been given if my parents hadn’t changed their mind.
Parents have the job of naming their children and that can cause them a lot of trouble as they try to choose. There can be various ways to do it. Some people buy the baby name books and just go for what they like the sound of. Some choose family names or some may choose because of the meaning of the name.
I remember when my husband Phil came back from South Africa he told me about the way some children there had been named. He had someone working for him who was called ‘Doctor’. Phil asked him why and was told that his mother had been very pleased to have a son and asked the person who had delivered the baby what his name was. The person had answered that he was the doctor, so that is how Doctor got his name. A young woman carried a heavy burden as a name. When her father saw that he had a daughter instead of a second son, he called her ‘She’ll do’.
In the Bible children were often named because of some event or other, or given a name referring to some character trait. Isaac got his name, which means ‘he laughs’, because Sarah laughed when she was told she would have a son. Ishmael means ‘God hears’ because God heard the distress of Hagar when she ran away from Sarah. Jacob means ‘he takes by the heel’ or ‘he cheats’, both of which are true of him.
When the angel told Zechariah that he and Elizabeth would have a son he was told to call him John, which means ‘God’s grace’. It was indeed by God’s grace that Zechariah’s prayer for a child was answered. When it came to the day to circumcise and name John, all the relatives expected him to be called after his father so they were very surprised when Zechariah wrote: ‘His name is John’. When the angel came to Mary and announced the promise of a son she was told to call him Jesus, Yeshua or Yehoshua which means ‘Yahweh saves’ or ‘the Lord saves’. Jesus’ name defined his mission on earth.
If people took, and still take, so much trouble over finding just the right name for their children, it seems likely that the parents of the man in the gospel story today took care also. When asked his name by Jesus he says, ‘Legion’ and the explanation is given that this name reflects the many demons within him. Surely that was not the name that was given to this man when he was born. Perhaps his parents had named him after his father or grandfather. Perhaps they had given him a name which suggested a good character or a talent they hoped him to have. Surely they had not chosen Legion.
Whatever the evil was that took over his life, it had robbed the man of so much. He couldn’t live free but was often chained up in order to try to control him, perhaps even to protect him. He was obviously not able to be part of his community, but was a strange person who didn’t fit in, whom people feared. He spent his time not with the living but with the dead. He lived in the wilds, not in a house. Even his thoughts were not his own. He was not in his right mind. He had lost his dignity and wandered about naked. At some point he had lost his name and fully identified with the evil which lived within him, becoming Legion, the one inhabited by many evil spirits.
All that changed when Jesus came on the scene. Before the man had asked for help, Jesus appears to have begun to deal with the spirits and the spirits were on the back foot. It seems that being driven out of the man was torment for the evil that lived within him. We hear of the spirits begging to be allowed to go into the pigs rather than being sent back to the abyss. All the way through this story it was Jesus who was in charge, not evil. Evil had lost its foothold once Jesus was present.
After Jesus had healed the demoniac all that was lost was restored to him. He was in his right mind, calm and not trying to break away from chains. He was clothed, restored to dignity. He was sent back to belong again to the community he had not been able to belong to for so long. And he was given a purpose. He had a story to tell of how Jesus had set him free to live a full life, a life in which he could be all God intended him to be. Perhaps he even gained a new name, or regained his original one. Certainly Legion would no longer have been an appropriate name for him.
When Jesus began his work he read from Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
You could call this Jesus’ manifesto. The major part of it is the bringing of freedom, to the captives, to those who are oppressed. Some people are actually held physically captive in prison, under house arrest, in jungle hideouts with guerrilla groups. Probably many more are held captive by evil in this world as Legion was.
It was never God’s intention that people should suffer depression, anxiety, addiction, mental illness and so on. Some feel rejected or feel they have failed in life, or that they are worthless and life is not worth living. In Second Life there are so many people who are suffering in some way. They seem to feel safer to share their worries in SL, giving us some insight into the difficulties in their lives. I speak to someone in this kind of situation most weeks in SL and I also speak to our members who have heard of the struggles of their SL friends and are concerned for them.
We who are Christians are called to do as Jesus did, to set people free and restore them to a full and abundant life. We do this by listening to them, sharing the Good News of Jesus, praying for and with them. We are also called to share our story as Legion did, because first hand experience is far more powerful than hearsay.
We are so privileged to have been given the opportunity to show Christ’s love for other people in both the worlds we live in. Let’s seize every chance to declare what God has done for each of us, just as Legion was commissioned to do.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor