Commentary on the Gospel of
“EVIL SPIRIT, COME OUT OF THE MAN!”
This gospel story overflows with vivid, symbolically charged details. A man possessed by an evil spirit now lives among the tombs. It suggests a man afflicted by his own consciousness of sin, living as one already dead. Though he punishes himself with stones, his own deep-seated sins recoil in terror in the presence of Jesus; from the point of view of this “old man,” the call to conversion, though it is offering a passage back to life, is also the summons to a kind of death.
The story takes another turn, when the evil spirits call themselves “Legion”—the name for a large unit of Roman soldiers. In the context of first-century Palestine, this allusion to Roman occupation adds an element of subversion.
Altogether it is a story of disruption and conflict—a confrontation between the power of Jesus and the forces of captivity, whether in the life of one sinner, or in the wider society. In either case, Jesus takes on the forces of death and deadness, drives them out, and leaves behind a man brought to new life, “clothed and in his right mind,” charged to proclaim the terrifying mercy of the Lord.