Mark 4-5: Wrong Answer

Sometimes the wrong answer is the best answer.

I’m still working through reading the New Testament. I’m not as fast a reader as Betsy, but I promise I’m not THAT slow. Even so, I had to quit after two chapters of Mark, because there is just SO MUCH in Mark 4 and 5 that you could soak in it for a month. Mark 4 is the first time Jesus preaches, really (Mark, the shortest and likely oldest Gospel, has a sort of “park and bark” rhythm to it that the other gospels follow. Jesus does stuff for a while, then he stops and talks a while, then he goes and does more stuff.) Mark 5 has a couple phenomenal stories: the Gerasene Demoniac and the paired Jairus’ daughter/hemorrhaging woman stories that Matthew and Luke keep as well. If you don’t know those references, don’t worry, because they’re pretty esoteric. But do get a Bible and read Mark 5.

And translations matter, which will eventually get me back to the point I made in the first line. I’ve been using the Good News translation of the Bible (which, just as a reminder, was written in Ancient Greek, not King James English), and the Good News is what scholars call a “dynamic equivalence” translation and what normal people call a “hippie translation.” If you’re a Gen Xer and can’t stand the hippie culture of your parents, let me suggest The Message as an even better, more modern loose translation. There are others.

So the first story in Mark 5 fits some of the quirks of Mark’s style (for instance, everything in this gospel happens *right away*; in this case, the demoniac shows up as soon as Jesus gets out of a boat that came from the other side of huge lake). But it also has some oddities that set it apart. Most stories are brief and detail-light; this one has all kinds of context. The guy who is possessed by demons has been a challenge to the community for a long time. They’ve tied him up, but nobody and nothing can hold him down. Jesus has a long conversation with the demon-possessed guy, which I’ll come back to. Jesus doesn’t cast out the demons; they negotiate a relocation agreement to inhabit a herd of pigs. The pigs, once demon-inhabited, run off a cliff into the sea, making the negotiation by the demons less than win-win. The swineherder tells the community and they have, maybe, the most authentic reaction of anyone in the Gospel. 

Guy in your town is totally nuts, a menace to community, can’t be contained by law enforcement. Stranger shows up, makes the guy right, but in the process 2,000 animals run off a cliff. How do you react?

“They asked Jesus to leave their territory.” (5:17) Yeah. I’d be freaked out, too.

(Not yet to my point. Hang tight.)

There’s a really poignant scene after that. The now-healed formerly demon-possessed guy begs Jesus to take him with him. Having been a huge, huge challenge to the town whose healing tanks the local economy, can you blame him? But Jesus says, no. Instead, “Go back home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how kind he has been to you.” And the guy sets off and tells everyone in the region about his story of being made whole.

What’s remarkable about that? In every story before (check Mark 3:12, for instance) and after, Jesus tells people to hush when he heals them, to not make a scene and be chill. Keep it a secret. Why does this guy get different directions? I have no idea.

OK, so. With that background, here’s why the wrong answer is sometimes the best answer.

In Mark 5:9, Jesus asks the demons for their name. (There’s a whole tangent about the power of names that I will skip. You’re welcome.) And they say “We are Legion, for we are many.” In the original Greek, pretty much. In the King James Version that most Americans think the Bible was written in. In most English translations.

But not in the Good News, nor in The Message. “My name is Mob.” In The Message, the next part is “I’m a rioting mob.”

Look, technically, that’s the wrong answer.

But it’s the best answer. Way better than “Legion.”

I don’t know what your experience is with evil, with the forces that pull you away from becoming the best version of yourself. But from my experience, it doesn’t feel like being attacked by an organized, military legion in formation. It feels like being tugged down by a riotous mob, dragged in every direction by powerful and uncoordinated passions and forces.

These stories say a lot about Jesus and about God and about the healing force of the Divine. And with a month of reflecting on Matthew 4-5, you can sort through all of those points. 

But maybe tonight, if you feel like hope and joy and love are being overrun by riotous mobs, it’s enough to know that God knows how to deal expertly with those. Hope and joy and love are going to make it till the dawn.

“Mob” may be the wrong answer to how to translate “legion”. But it’s the best answer when trying to describe the forces that pull us from who we could be.

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