Torn Apart

The Feast of Mary Magdalene

By Sarah Cornwell

A Reading from the Gospel of Mark 5:1-20

1 They came to the other side of the lake, to the country of the Gerasenes. 2 And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. 3 He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; 4 for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. 6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; 7 and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” 8 For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10 He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; 12 and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the lake, and were drowned in the lake.

14 The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. 17 Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighbourhood. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.


In Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman famously wrote, “I am large, I contain multitudes.” Here, Whitman is arguing that contradictions coexist within a person because the space inside each of us is large — large enough to “contain multitudes.” In today’s gospel reading, Jesus encounters Legion, a collective of demons who have possessed an unfortunate man. When Jesus drives out the demons, they are sufficient in number to possess a herd of 2,000 swine. It would seem Whitman is correct: we can contain multitudes.

He is also correct that we are people of contradiction. We feel that in large and small ways on a daily basis. We also see it throughout Scripture. In today’s reading from 1 Samuel, Saul, after driving out all of the mediums from the land, immediately goes and seeks out a medium to bring forth Samuel from the dead. And why? To learn that he will be killed, and Israel, who herself has been plagued by a relationship to many idols, will fall to the Philistines.

With due respect to Uncle Walt, housing “multitudes” and contradictions within us can be disastrous. The possessed man, made in the image of God, with a soul that inherently seeks out its Maker, is so violent and torn apart that shackles and chains are not able to stop him from self-harm. An individual soul cannot serve two masters any more than the whole kingdom of Israel can serve more than one God. While there is certainly room within us to house Legion, these demons will violently conflict with our one, immortal soul that yearns for the one true God. We must close the door to the idolatrous temptations of Satan so that his servants may not take up residence and tear us apart. As we celebrate today the feast of Mary Magdalene, from whom Jesus cast out seven demons to make her whole and one with him, let us ask the Lord to do the same for us.

Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman, ballet teacher, and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have six children and they live in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.

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Today we pray for:

The Diocese of Long Island
The Diocese of Dar-es-Salaam (Anglican Church of Tanzania)


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