Mark 5: What is your name?
Thank you very much for inviting me to preach today. By way of introduction, I have been coming here as a Bible college student on placement since September, and I plan to work in Japan as a missionary in the future. My placement finishes at the end of this month, but I think I will be able to see you all again before I leave for Japan next February or March. I’ve felt really blessed over the past 8 months, and I want to thank you for the way that you’ve all accepted me very warmly over this time. I’ve really felt like a member of God’s family in this church. This church is one which is particularly good at building strong relationships, and that’s what today’s passage relates to.
We recently started a series studying Mark’s Gospel. Morinaga-sensei started the series by giving us an introduction Mark chapter 1, and then last week preached on John the Baptist. Next week Young-sensei will continue in Mark 1, but this week I would like to jump forward a little to Mark 5. The reason is that before I knew that we would be studying Mark’s Gospel here in church, I was reading through Mark in my own quiet times. I studied Mark 1 and Mark 6 for my Greek exam, but it was Mark 5 that really captivated me, and I’m delighted to be able to share it together with you today.
Mark 5 follows on from the calming of the storm in Mark 4. There Jesus rebukes the wind, and calms the storm, and his disciples ask “Who is this?” In Mark 5, we see that question is immediately answered.
After calming the storm, Jesus goes across the lake to the area of the Gerasenes. Now, where is Gerasa? There was a town called Gerasa, but it was 50 kilometers from the lake, so it’s difficult to imagine that that was the scene of this story. In Matthew, the place is called the “Gadarenes”, but Gadara doesn’t have a steep cliff, so that’s probably not the place of this story either. Other manuscripts mention a place called “Gergesa”, and since the town of Gergesa was right near the lake, I think that Gergesa was where this story happened and Mark, who didn’t really know the geography of this area, substituted the lesser-known “Gergesa” with the bigger town of “Gerasa”. At any rate, Jesus went over to the eastern shore of the lake, the Gentile area.
As soon as he gets to the eastern shore, Jesus is met by a man with an evil spirit. The first thing he says is surprising: he calls Jesus “the Son of the most high God”. “Who is this?” “The Son of the most high God.” But who’s told him this? When you read through Mark, whenever someone confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, they are told not to tell anyone about this. Jesus’ identity is a secret. How does he know this secret? Well, as it says in 1 Corinthians, “No-one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” Obviously the Holy Spirit has gone before Jesus and has been working in this man’s heart. In the same way, when we go out to evangelize, the Holy Spirit goes before us and shines His light even in the places we think are darkest of all. At the office. At school. At home. “Behold, I will be with you always, to the end of the age.”
Then what does he say? The NIV says “What do you want with me?” but Mark’s clipped Greek says something like “What, me and you?” Guelich’s commentary translates this as “What do you and I have in common?” Another translation would be “What relationship do you and I have?” This man who has no human relationships at all is crying out to find relationship.
And then, in verses 3 to 5, we have a more complete description of this man’s circumstances. He lives alone, away from human relationships. In Genesis, God says ‘it is not good for man to be alone’, and we often take this to relate to marriage, but I think the meaning is wider than that. Really God is saying that man should not live away from human relationship.
He does not merely live alone, but he lives in the tombs. He is living his life in the midst of death. But our Lord Jesus is the sort of person who enters right into the midst of death. This unclean man with his unclean spirits lives with unclean pigs and unclean tombs, and Jesus, the Holy One, enters into that place. Rather than being contaminated by all this uncleanness, Jesus’ holiness purifies the impurity.
And he lives his live without reference to ‘day and night’. As the missionary Kosuke Koyama writes, he is ‘violently busy,’ ‘ignoring the primeval order set by the Creator.’ Paradoxically, this violently busy lifestyle becomes a paralysis. But this paralysis affects our society as well. Cannot today’s society rightly be called ‘violently busy’? If you take the tube, you’ll see adverts for mobile phones. The selling point of today’s mobile phones is that you can get on with your work even if you’re away from the office. You no longer have to distinguish between office and home! You can live ‘without reference to day and night’! The reason this passage particularly captivates me is that it’s not just about a man two thousand years ago, it’s about us today. Scripture is like a mirror, and in this man’s distress I see myself.
Seeing this man, what does Jesus do? Jesus asks his name. In some religions, when you’re performing an exorcism it’s important to know the name of the evil spirit, but Jesus never asks the name of an evil spirit. In this case as well, Jesus is not talking to the evil spirit; he’s talking to the man with the evil spirit. Jesus wants to build a relationship with this man who has no human relationships. He wants to given him ‘shalom.’ Shalom is often translated as peace, but ‘Shalom’ is ultimately about right relationships. ‘Shalom’ is the answer to the question in verse 7, ‘What, me and you?’ ‘What relationship is there between me and you?’ Is it a good relationship? Is it a bad relationship? Is it no relationship at all? Or is it that right relationship, that ‘shalom’ of peace that only Jesus can give?
When I was taking lessons in Japanese, I learn the phrase ‘o-genki desu ka’ quite early on. My professor always used to explain the phrase like this: ‘is your psychic stuff in good order?’ That’s a human question: ‘is your stuff inside you in good order?’ But the question of God’s shalom is a different one: ‘are your relationships in good order?’ It’s not about what’s inside you, but about if your relationship to people around you and to God is in good order. When God asks Cain ‘where is your brother Abel?’ he is not making a request for information. He is asking about Cain’s relationships. That is the meaning of shalom.
So when Jesus asks the man’s name, he is restoring to him his humanity. Names in the Bible reflect the purpose of someone’s life. So Jacob became Israel, the one who fights with God. Peter is the rock of the church. Jesus is the one who saves people from their sins. However, this man has forgotten his own name. He has forgotten his purpose.
The name he gives, ‘Legion’, is not his name; it is a name which refers to the number of evil spirits living inside him. He no longer has his own identity. A legion was a squadron of six thousand men in the Roman empire. Israel at that time was occupied by any number of legions, and this man has six thousand evil spirits living in him as occupying forces. He was following six thousand different influences. His world, inside and outside, was confused and occupied. He could not find his own identity in such a world. And as Japanese living in England or English people trying to enter into Japanese society, where do we receive our identity from in such a confused world? Are we, like this man, the sum of a myriad influences on our lives, or do we receive our identity from our relationship with ‘the son of the most high God’?
And then the spirits ask Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he allows them. Two thousand pigs run down a slope and drown. Why did Jesus allow this? Isn’t it a waste? Didn’t someone lose their livelihood because of this? In the face of that shalom, in the face of right relationships, economic priorities need to be reconsidered. Shalom was more important to Jesus than pigs, than profits, than people’s livelihood, even sometimes the Law. In our lives too, that shalom that Jesus gives must be equally important.
In doing this Jesus makes himself unwanted and the people of the region beg him to leave. Then the man who had the evil spirits wants to be with Jesus. This is the same sort of language that’s used in Mark 3, in the calling of the disciples. “To be with him” basically means “to become his disciple”. But Jesus refuses.
I always thought this was really sad. You don’t really like to think of Jesus turning people away. Why isn’t Jesus grateful for this man? Perhaps it’s because this man has been following the voices of the evil spirits inside him for many years, and they had stolen his identity. He had become Legion. Instead of that, Jesus commissions him. He sends him back to his own community. In other words, he restores permanent relationships.
On top of that, he gives him a role. He gives him a sense of purpose. He becomes Jesus’ representative, an evangelist to his own people. And a successful evangelist at that! Instead of following the voices, now his own voice was important. But it was only important in as much as it was making known the glory of God.
Jesus’ healing was a spiritual thing, but it was also a thing of shalom. He has the power to cast out evil spirits. He has the power to restore our relationships one with another. Through the blood of his cross, he has the power to restore the relationship between God and man. We could say that these are all about giving shalom. “What is your name” is an invitation to that shalom. And Jesus invites us to enter into that shalom today. Let’s pray.
Merciful Father God, where do we get our identity from in this mixed-up society? We get it from our relationship to you. Thank you that from the very beginning you have been seeking us out and inviting us into your shalom. Please come in and heal our spirits, our hearts and our relationships, in the name of Jesus Christ in whose name is shalom. Amen.