As part of a road trip this year, my family and I visited with two of my roommates from college and their families. We don’t get to see each other in person often enough even though we text constantly. My birthday happened to be a couple of days later, so much to my surprise, my friends hosted a small birthday party, complete with cake and gifts. One of the presents, a decorative plaque said, “Home is where my people are.” Those words rang true for me because whenever I think about the various places I’ve lived, I first think about the people who were part of my life when I was there. When I think of college, I always think of these friends whom I’ve known for almost thirty years. Of course, my home now is with my husband and children. While we’ve lived in the same city and the same house for almost fifteen years, my home is not tied to the city or the physical structure, but to my people.
During Jesus’ ministry on earth, he traveled almost constantly. On one of his many trips, Jesus got out of a boat in the region of Gerasenes when a man filled with an impure spirit met him at the shore (see Mark 5:1-20). The man lived in the tombs. He’d become so afflicted that nothing could restrain him. He’d even broken through iron chains around his hands and feet. Night and day, he would cry out in agony. He used rocks to cut himself. When he saw Jesus arrive, the man ran and fell on his knees before Jesus.
Jesus commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man, but the man with the impure spirits conversed with Jesus instead. He said, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name, don’t torture me!” (verse 7). In response, Jesus asked his name. He said, “My name is Legion for we are many” (verse 9). The impure spirits begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area but asked Jesus to allow them to enter a huge herd of pigs. Jesus gave the impure spirits permission to leave the man and enter the pigs who then ran off a cliff into the water and drowned.
When the townspeople came to see what had happened, they found the man who’d been “possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind,” and they were afraid (verse 15). They’d become accustomed to the out-of-control man in the tombs. Even though they probably feared the crazy man, they were more scared of Jesus who had the ability to cure the man. Overcome by terror, they pleaded with Jesus to leave their region.
But not the man whom Jesus had healed. As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who’d been demon possessed begged Jesus to go with him. “Jesus did not let him, but said, ‘Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (verse 19). So, the man went and began to tell what Jesus had done for him and the people he told were amazed.
The man who’d been healed wanted to go with Jesus. And why wouldn’t he? Jesus had just rescued him from a life of misery. I wonder if in today’s terms, the man had some sort of mental illness or psychological condition. Whether he was demon-possessed or severely mentally ill, Jesus quite literally saved his life. Legion had been living alone, in a personal nightmare. His situation cut him off and isolated him from everyone. He was homeless and considered an outcast. He’d been a threat to the community. It made complete sense that he wanted to travel with Jesus as an act of praise and worship in response to Jesus’ healing and acceptance.
I thought that Jesus would’ve welcomed anyone willing to follow along with him and the disciples. I’m sure the man would’ve loyally served Jesus in any way. He’d been through hell and Jesus had brought him through to the other side. He was now a walking, talking miracle. Jesus could’ve made the man who’d been consumed by the legion of unclean spirits his opening act. The man could give his incredible testimony to draw in more crowds before Jesus took the stage.
Even though the man begged to come along, Jesus refused. Instead, Jesus told him to go home to his own people. The man probably hadn’t been home in a long time. When he left home, he was in turmoil physically, mentally, and emotionally. Now he could return home to the people he’d been forced to leave because of his condition, a new man. Jesus wanted him to rebuild his family by telling them what God had done for him. Jesus hoped he would instill the love of God in his own people. To help them recover from his absence and build a future based on the grace and mercy of God. Immediately, the man started telling everyone about the amazing things Jesus had done for him, this time with shouts of joy, not despair. When he reached his own people at home, they may have been somewhat anxious at his arrival, but I’m sure they breathed a huge sigh of relief and welcomed him back after he explained what Jesus had done. The man could not erase all he and his people had experienced, but they could forge a new path now that he was home.
While most of us will never experience the same type of tragedy and epic miracle as Legion, we have all traveled roads that seemed impossibly difficult at the time. Grief, depression, loss, and anxiety are just some of the problems that can fell us. But with God’s help and the help of those people God puts in our lives, we can build a new road–one that does not ignore our hard experiences, but one that acknowledges God’s comfort, support, and guidance. And we can make God’s love the foundation of our homes so that our own people will know to turn to God in the midst of their own darkest times.
Jesus taught the man formerly known as Legion, and therefore us, that home is where our people are and that we have important work to do by telling and showing them what God has done for us. To explain how we depended on God in our hard times. Telling our loved ones how God has helped us is not always simple or easy, but our people benefit when we share our stories. Personally, I don’t always do a great job of telling my children how God brought me through tough times. But they won’t know unless I tell them. This story of Legion convinces me that I must try to do better.
Jesus invites us to help with God’s work on earth by creating homes in which our people know that God is our greatest source of help. We have the opportunity to serve our people and God if we are vulnerable enough to tell them how much the Lord did for us in our difficulties. How God has shown mercy to us. By letting them know they are never alone, we can be conduits of God’s love to our own people, in our homes, just as Jesus asked us to do.