I could come and go as I pleased and no one could prevent me. Believe me, they tried. Crowds of men would come and try to hold me down, as many as ten men at once. They seized my arms and legs, leaped on my chest, locked their arms around my neck, thinking they could choke the life out of me. I threw them aside as effortlessly as a fisherman tosses his nets out over the nearby Sea of Galilee. Back then, I had the strength of thirty, forty, fifty men.
Sometimes, just to taunt my assailants, I would let them bind me. I feigned struggle as they wound the chains around my chest, legs, and arms then clamped my ankles in irons. When they were done and stood back, finally satisfied that they had subdued me, I stared at them with all the spite that was in my soul and shook off the shackles as if they were made of parchment. My would-be captors ran off in panic.
They were afraid of me. My strength frightened them. My freedom threatened them. They wanted nothing to do with me and that was the way I wanted it, too. Their fear simply fueled my hatred for them and their common, contemptible lives.
I didn’t want to be anywhere near the people of the Decapolis – my home! – so I raced up and down the hills with abandon, howling my independence by day and night. But most of the time I ran free among the tombs. The dead didn’t bother me; they didn’t try to deny me my freedom.
One day, I found myself trembling.
Rumors of a fresh power sailed across the water before the boats driven by the winds over Galilee. When they reached me, I was conflicted within. Gazing over the waters from the top of a distant hill, I saw a man standing in a boat. He stepped out and stood in the lapping water as if he was waiting for something.
He was waiting for me.
Like never before, I was driven to him. Nothing and no one had ever compelled me like this man who was still merely a distant image. Yet there was an opposing force inside me that was tearing at me to hold back.
What was this feeling? The freedom that defined me now eluded me, replaced by an unnamed conflict within. I could do nothing; I had no will. Before I was aware of my own actions, I was at the feet of the stranger. He spoke something in my direction, but it could not have been meant for me. I didn’t understand his words.
Someone shouted a response in an acrid voice, or rather a chorus of voices that sounded like a mob all screeching at once. “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!”
The sound came from my mouth. I felt as if I was standing aside, watching the freakish scene play out before me. The man the voices called Jesus asked, “What is your name?” Before I could respond, the voices answered him. I shuddered as I heard the wretched multitude of tongues growl “My name is Legion, for we are many.”
The voices terrified me, but they were the voices I knew. It was my voice that spoke next the words that were a betrayal of myself, though I no longer knew who I was. “Don’t send them away, Jesus.” Maybe I was trying to convince myself because I repeated it over and over.
There was pity in Jesus’ eyes as he watched me writhing on the ground. The Legion I feared and needed spoke from my depths, begging Jesus to send them into a herd of pigs that had been my only neighbors when I wandered these hills. Jesus bade them go and they destroyed those pigs just as they had laid waste to my life all those years.
The citizens who wanted nothing to do with this wild man who ran naked among the tombs made it clear that they wanted less to do with my savior. When they came out to drive Jesus away from their homes, they found me seated at the feet of Jesus, where I’d belonged all my life. No matter where I would go, I would forever be his.
I was free indeed.