In today’s Bible reading, Jesus encounters a man who has been demonized by a legion of demons. The demons manifested in ways we would describe mental illness today such as self-mutilation and paranoid schizophrenia. Mental illness is real. It is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain and it can be debilitating. In many cases, mental illness can be managed with medication. And there should be no more shame for taking antidepressants or antianxiety medications than taking statins for high cholesterol. In other words, there should be no shame in seeking medical attention for medical problems.
But this man didn’t suffer from mental illness. He suffered by being demonized. (Note: The Bible doesn’t differentiate between demonic “possession” and demonic “oppression”; it only describes someone like this man as being “demonized” or “having an unclean spirit” as this man is described. (Mark 5:2b)
We don’t know how many demons there were. The Roman army was divided into several groups of differing sizes; the legion being the largest of these groups. But there wasn’t a hard-and-fast number that comprised a “legion”. However, we do know that the legion of demons was cast into a herd of two thousand pigs. Assuming at least one demon went into each pig, that’s a lot of demons who were terrorizing this poor man!
We can thank Hollywood for portraying demons in violent, dramatic ways. But if you look at how Jesus dealt with demons, nothing like that happens. Demonized people may have violent outbursts before encountering Jesus, but the actual encounter with Jesus is markedly undramatic. Demons aren’t something that Believers should be afraid of. Greater is He Who is in us than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4) Now, that’s not to say that we should go looking for them. But if we encounter them, we should simply claim the authority we have because of Whose we are.
Note that after being delivered from the legion of demons, the man tells Jesus he wants to follow Him. It’s a natural response to want to be with Jesus after such a transformation. But Jesus tells the man to go back home. Jesus wants the man to be a living testimony of what Jesus did than to simply sit at His feet and follow Him from town to town.
A big part of following Jesus is living out our deliverance from sin. And who better to live out our freedom in front of than our family and friends who have seen us at our worst as slaves to sin! In fact, separating from our lost friends and family may be the last thing we need to do when we come to faith in Christ, or become more committed to our faith in Christ. Yes, it’s important to protect ourselves from the temptations to fall back into sin, but doing so can prevent us from having the biggest impact for the Kingdom of God.