Image: When Christlike love comes to town … Orthodox Icon of the Second Coming (full image below). Christ is enthroned in the centre surrounded by the angels and saints. Paradise is at the bottom, with the Bosom of Abraham (left) and the Good Thief (right) holding his cross. Greece, around 1700. Wood, gesso, tempera.
‘What is your name?’
Ordinary Sunday 12, Year C
If this tormented person has a name, no one knows it. If a history, no one remembers it. If a heart worth saving, no one sees it. No one looks. Until Jesus does …
Gerasa. Famous as the location of a Jewish revolt brutally put down by the Roman army in 67 CE. Vespasian’s general, Lucius Annius, killed 1,000 rebels who were besieged in Gerasa, and then destroyed it, along with the surrounding villages.
There’s a lot going on in today’s gospel. The personal exorcism is symbolic of corporate liberation … and more.
One commentator writes: “The association of a Roman legion with a herd of pigs was a priceless piece of irony … As we hear the hooves of the pigs clicking toward the sea, the message is that even the power of Rome will be no match for the liberating power of God in Christ” (Jeffrey John).
“What is your name?” Jesus asks the one in torment. He asks for a name, and in so doing begins to recall the one ostracised by society to a precious identity as a child beloved of God.
What is your name? The question opens a space for healing. Who are you? Beneath the labels and diagnoses, the pretence and piety, the fear and the shame?
What is your name? The question invites honest self-examination – personal and corporate/social/political/ecological …
We might consider how we come to name ourselves.
According to patrilineal convention … in honour of a forebear … in relation to home, culture or country … in response to baptism or other religious commitment … with reference to a trade or occupation … as a member of a group or community? By singular imprint, signature, mark, initials or nickname … in receipt of a certain term of endearment (or derogatory term) … by dint of something creative/transformative, a new identity or purpose?
Honest self-examination is enlivening. It can also bring understanding of oneself and others. For we are all vulnerable to forces that seek to take us over, to bind our mouths, to take away our true names, and to separate us from God, from creation and from each other …
When the townspeople come running to see what’s going on, they find the exorcised person sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and of a right mind. Salvation, in other words, lies at the feet of Jesus. Even the most destructive demons we can conjure up beg for mercy when Christlike love comes to town.
We might imagine the story of salvation the exorcised person tells … as we ourselves proclaim the good news of Jesus, the Wisdom and Kindom of God …
It’s not about being fundamentalist or narrow.
“When Christlike love comes to town” means when the Messiah comes (as neighbour in space and time) … as Host who invites us to a feast (the Bread of Life broken and given) … It means the dawning of Christ-consciousness … when Christlike wisdom (philo-sophia) or loving-kindness (hesed) is expressed, shared, acknowledged … when Christ as Holy Stranger cries for help or justice … when Christ as Holy Fool or Trickster overturns expectations or unmasks pretensions … when Christa Community is experienced, offered, maintained … when the Cosmic Christ as pattern to life in all its diverse beauty is revealed …
“When Christlike love comes to town” means a lot.
We have every reason to share this good news with confidence – in spite of the demons (fear of difference and the other, fear of change, fear of the freedom to address individual and social conflict/inequality/imbalance … fear of the Word of God misrepresented …).
This is a story about resistance and resurrection … about the Christ who finds us naked among the tombs, clothes us with dignity, scatters the demons to save our souls, and turns us into storytellers who will help heal the world (Debie Thomas). Amen.