Then Jesus asked the demons in the man, “What is your name?”
“My name is Legion for we are many.” And they begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.
A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 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. (edited from NIV)
It’s easy to dismiss the story of the Gerasene Demoniac as an example of first century superstition. After all, this Age of Science doesn’t believe in devils and demons. However, the real point of the story is political. The key to understanding the story lies in the demons’ name: Legion.
The word Legion must refer to the Roman legions that were occupying Israel. The demons are really the Roman conquerors who had taken away the Israelites’ freedom and had pushed Jewish peasants to the edge of starvation with taxes. Thus, Jesus is really commanding the Roman occupiers to go into the pigs, which were—according to Jewish purity laws—impure like the Romans, who even ate pork. Jesus is, in effect, calling the Romans pigs and is ordering the Roman swine to drown in the lake, much as Pharoah’s legions drowned in the Red Sea while the ancient Hebrews were marching to the freedom that Jesus and his followers so ardently wished for.
But the story still doesn’t have much to do with modern day Americans who live in the “home of the free.” Or does it? Are we not oppressed by imperial, demoniac ambitions like those held by the Romans? Do we not want to dominate the world militarily, politically, and economically? Is there not an American empire analogous to the Roman empire? Are we not pigs in the eyes of the undeveloped world?
And haven’t our demons turned upon us ourselves? Does not one segment of our population—white by ethnicity—want to dominate people of color and their liberal, white allies? Does this demon-possessed population not want to destroy freedom and democracy in the name of White Supremacy? Are the American people as a whole not drowning in a sea of lies spread by Machiavellian politicians?
Surely Friends must stand with Jesus as he commands the destruction of imperialism and its lies. Quakers must work for the establishment of the Kingdom of God, in which all human beings are free and the demons of injustice dethroned.
~ Richard Russell
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