“What is your name?”
That is a seemingly innocuous question. It is so commonplace that the question may easily go unnoticed, as it appears nestled into this fantastic story of demons being driven from a man to a herd of swine the swine. For the fortunate majority this question is asked so often in the course of living, that we may never even notice how amazing it is in this context.
But in this case, it seems quite remarkable because I imagine that for this man, referred to as the Garasene Demoniac, I suspect that it is a question that is rarely if ever asked. Indeed, this man is treated more like a wild animal than a human. He lives in the shadows of society naked amongst the tombs. If he is engaged with at all, it is only to be tied down. And as he sees Jesus approaching he begs Jesus not to torment him.
I am reminded of a dog that we had when I was a child. We had acquired her from the humane society and she would wince whenever anyone would make any fast sweeping hand gesture! It was a sad testimony to the history of abuse that she must have experienced in her former home. Likewise this plea not to be tormented tells us much about how this man has come to expect to be treated by those who even engage with him at all.
But Jesus does not torment him. Instead Jesus asks this seemingly mundane question. “What is your name?” In this context, this question is hardly an invitation to small talk, but it cuts deep.
For a name is a complex and powerful thing. When we acknowledge someone by name we engage with the absolute particularity and uniqueness of that individual. A name signifies that no matter how similar or dissimilar we might be to anyone else, there is something irreducibly unique.
And when we begin to dig deeper into the complexity of the individual, we find that each unique story is so deeply interwoven with the stories of others that we might all rightly be called “Legion.” Our identity, though singular, is complex. It consists of a multitude of identities. We share elements of our story with others according to some common identity markers. For instance I am a Caucasian, heterosexual, American, episcopal priest, father, and husband of pan-European descent with political leanings that lead me to broadly identify with one party more than the other. Which one doesn’t even matter, because the point is that all of us have a similar list of categories that speak to some extent to our identity. And yet, none of those terms are sufficient to express the fullness of our unique and unrepeatable story. The closest we can come to doing that in words is through our name.
By asking this man his name, Jesus acknowledges that he is much more than a “demoniac” but that he is a person. He is a person whose value and worth is intrinsic to his being and not determined by whatever the legion of voices might have him or us believe. In short, this question signifies Jesus’ recognition that this man who has been exiled to the tombs and abandoned by everyone else is a child of God, and as such is beloved.
In that seemingly mundane question, we find the profound depth of God’s love!
For God’s Love penetrates to the heart of our being. Whereas we seem to continuously evaluate ourselves and one another according to culturally inherited scripts, God sees us for who we truly are – as uniquely beloved Sons and Daughters of the Living God. This is what I believe Paul means when he insists that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, Slave or Free, Male and Female. Not that those distinctions are erased, but that our true identity can never be reduced to any of those markers. They do not dictate the intensity of God’s love for us. Nor do they constitute a barrier for our love of one another.
And as disciples of Christ we are invited to let this same Spirit of love take hold of us. That the mind of Christ be in us, so that we might begin to see and relate to one another according to this same depth of love which does not bind us according to any label, but sets us free to love and be loved as unique expressions of God’s creative Spirit.
But this Love does come with a price! It is quite telling that when the townsfolk see what Jesus has done, they do not embrace him, but they instead ask him to leave! At first this might seem counterintuitive. Why wouldn’t they be overjoyed and celebrate what Jesus has done? But if we stop for a moment to reflect on what it is we will see, if we actually acknowledge one another as brothers and sisters, I don’t think it is all that difficult to see why that is upsetting.
Because if we actually let this love take hold of us, not simply in intellectual platitudes, but in the depth of our being, our hearts are going to break! They will break as we come to recognize just how deeply broken our world is. They will break as we come to recognize the true depths of systemic injustice that implicates us all. Our hearts will break as we recognize that hunger pains of those starving are not simply “their problem,” but our problem. Our hearts will break when we begin to feel as our own, the pain of those who grieve the loss of their sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters who lives were tragically cut short in Orlando.
If we allow God’s love to dwell in us, our hearts will break!
And in the face of that overwhelming heartache, it may seem easier to rationalize away that brokenness as an unfortunate but inevitable fact rather than to allow for the possibility of another world.
But the very Good News of the Gospel is that not only is another world possible, but it is inevitable. In the Resurrection, God reveals his Life to be stronger than death. In the Resurrection, God reveals his love to be stronger than doubt, stronger than despair, stronger than fear, and stronger than hatred.
The Resurrection assures us that the pain of the heartbreak is not the end. In fact, it is the other side of the Holy Spirit, who like a refining fire is already at work burning Her law into our hearts so that we might at long last come to our right mind and reject all of the dehumanizing rhetoric of fear that seeks to keep us divided and cut off from our common humanity so that we might meet one another, not by labels, but by Name. And in doing so, we might lay claim to our Divine birthright as heirs of God’s Kingdom–Children of God.