The story of the deliverance of the Gadarene demoniac reappears often in our Orthodox lectionary, so it seems that someone thought we really needed to hear its message. You know the story: Our Lord crossed the Sea of Galilee with His disciples and disembarked on the eastern shore, in the region whose main city was Gadara. There He met a demoniac, accompanied according to Saint Matthew’s version of the story by a second demoniac. The man ran up to Christ and fell down before Him, asking for help. He was in dire straits indeed: his affliction drove him far from society, and he lived among the unclean tombs, screaming and cutting himself on the rocks. His neighbors had attempted what we would call an intervention: they bound him with a strait-jacket of chains and tried to take him home, but with demonic strength he broke the chains and returned to his solitary haunt and his wretched life of screaming and self-destruction. Something within him recognized Jesus as his only hope when He emerged on the sea-shore, and he ran to Him for help. When our Lord saw him, He had one question for him: “What is your name?” To know a person’s name was to have power over him, and our Lord’s first assault on the demonic within the man was extract the name. The man replied, “Legion,” for a veritable legion of demons had entered him. A legion, according to Roman figuring, was a force of about 6,000 men. We all know how the story ends: when the demons knew that their defeat was at hand, they asked permission to enter the herd of swine feeding nearby, rather than be cast into the abyss. Our Lord gave the requested permission in order to spare the man the trauma that would come from having the demons expelled involuntarily (to imagine what this would have meant for the man we have only to read of the trauma caused by a single demon leaving a boy in Mark 9:26), and they immediately left. When the demons suddenly entered the swine, they animals panicked and stampeded over the cliff and drowned in the sea below. But the man from whom the legion had departed was saved. He sat restored and calm at the Lord’s feet, and begged to go with Him.
The question that Christ asked the man is the question we must answer as well. What is your name? That is, what do we think is our real problem, our ultimate need, the one thing that stands between us and happiness?
The world of course offers its own false diagnoses of the human dilemma, and suggests a number of things that we really need. Taught by the world, when the Lord asks us, “What is your name?”, some would answer, “Poverty,” for they believe that insufficient money is their main problem. If only they had more money, they would be happy, and all would be well. Some would answer, “Unappreciated,” for they believe that if only they could be famous like the celebrities then they would be fulfilled. Fame and recognition of their gifts and abilities are all they need to be happy. Some would answer the Lord’s question by saying, “Loneliness,” for they feel that if only they were married, then their life would be complete and all their needs would be met. To the question of what is our basic dilemma, the world offers a variety of answers, and it suggests that money, fame, and marriage would solve everything.
The Gospel story of the Gadarene demoniac reveals our true need, which is deliverance from sin. Our real problem is not that we do not have enough money, or that we will never be celebrities, or that we are lonely. Our real problem is that we are twisted and broken inside, and our real name is legion. We may appear outwardly respectable, and may live functional lives, hiding our brokenness from the view of others, but in reality we live in the tombs of death like the poor wretch that met Christ by the shore. A moment’s honest introspection will reveal this. C. S. Lewis reported the same thing. In his book Surprised by Joy, he admitted to what he found the first time he looked inside himself: “For the first time I examined myself with a seriously practical purpose. And there I found what appalled me; a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a hareem of fondled hatreds. My name was legion.” Lewis answered the Lord’s question with the rigorous honesty which characterized all his subsequent work, and learned his true name and his true need. Of course we have other needs as well. We cannot live without money, and it is nice to have our worth recognized by our peers, and many find marriage to be the blessed path for them. But these needs are not our fundamental ones, for neither poverty, nor lack of recognition, nor loneliness can keep us from God and from eternal joy. Only sin can keep us from God. The Gadarene demoniac was not alone, for he had one who shared his misery, and who by the sea-shore that day shared his salvation. Let us join them as well. It is no use denying our true name and refusing to acknowledge what is our fundamental problem. Let us look within and speak our true name when Christ bids us, and like the demoniacs of the Gadarene region find our salvation in the Lord.