Among other things, I said:
"This story, to me, runs just behind the parable of the Prodigal Sons in expressing the nature of the Gospel. In fact, one could say that this story is the story of what happens when the Father of the story journeys to the far country, strides into the pig sty where his son is feeding the swine, and brings him home."
"One of the great failures of the Church has been the thought that it has to "protect Jesus" somehow. Another is that going to the "wrong" places with "ruin our witness" (this was a warning I heard a lot in my high school and college days). Our witness was, apparently, to be limited to those places where good people suffered from mild problems....or, were halfway to conversion already and just needed a little nudge to help them over the line.
"Jesus doesn't work that way. Jesus will go anywhere. On His on initiative, on His own hook. Jesus isn't afraid of any place, any situation, where people suffer. And here's the catch....Jesus calls us to follow Him there.
"I have to take a deep breath here. Because this is scary stuff. That Jesus calls us out from behind the safety of protected "clean" places to trust Him and enter the "unclean" places of our world is terrifying. This is where I'll leave it today. There is enough for us (and I count myself here) to chew on this story for a very long time."
The first has to do with names. When Jesus asks this man what his name is, he replies with the name of the demons. How many of us are like that? We identify ourselves with the names that others have called us. We identify ourselves with our disability, our failures, our sins, the labels of our culture. We do this until in the minds of those around us, and in our own minds, we become only that name.
Howard Thurman writes about the brush arbor slave preachers who would proclaim to their enslaved congregations, "You're not n****rs, you are children of God." He maintains that the Black church was born in that proclamation. The proclamation that we are not what others call us, not the role they try to shove us into, we are Children of God and our name is Beloved. The demons cannot bear that truth and must flee.
Fred Craddock tells of meeting Ben Hooper who had been Tennessee's Governor twice. But as a boy, Hooper had a very difficult time. He was born out of wedlock and suffered greatly at the hands of schoolmates and community folks who tried to figure out who his father was. One Sunday, when Ben was somewhere between 9-12, the pastor stopped him before he could sneak out quickly like he usually did:
Before I could make my way through the group, I felt a hand on my shoulder, a heavy hand. It was that minister. I trembled in fear. He turned his face around so he could see mine and seemed to be staring for a little while. I knew what he was doing. He was going to make a guess as to who my father was. A moment later he said, "Well, boy, you're a child of..." and he paused there. And I knew it was coming. I knew I would have my feelings hurt. I knew I would not go back again. he said, "Boy, your a child of God. I see a striking resemblance, boy." Then he swatted me on the bottom and said, "Now, you go claim your inheritance." I left the building a different person. In fact, that was really the beginning of my life.
(from Craddock Stories, edited by Mike Graves and Richard Ward)
This is such incredibly Good News....this is Gospel...God doesn't just wait like the father of the prodigal son; Jesus comes to where we are in our broken, wounded, demonic ridden state and says to us, "You are not whatever bigoted, marginalizing name they are calling you. Legion is NOT your name. Your name is Beloved. You are a child of God. I can see the resemblance. Now go claim your inheritance."
This news is not just about us and Jesus and personal salvation. It is a proclamation about who each of us is in the world today....a world where Donald Trump delights in calling his enemies "dogs," "rapists," "low intelligence," and their countries of origin "shitholes." No one reading this needs to be told that it is a short step from such language to declaring that such people are not really human and that they can justifiably be gassed, deported, starved, denied health care, or their children put in cages.
As we see in the story Luke tells, the presence of a Jesus who says, "Legion is not your name," puts the prevailing social and economic structure at risk. No wonder they asked Him to leave. What would happen if EVERYBODY decided that they were a child of God? What if they decided that EVERYBODY should be treated that way? Who knows how many pigs that would cost?
So Jesus leaves. But before He leaves, He does something really sneaky. He tells this man who now knows that he is Beloved, "go home and tell them what great things God has done for you." Jesus plants a time bomb by the name of the Man Formerly Known As Legion. A seed of God's love that will sprout like kudzu.
The Good News that we are Beloved starts with us, individually and personally, but it does not stop there. It grows in the cracks of the walls we've built between us. It shatters the framework of a culture built on making God's Beloved Ones "other" and "expendable." It overcomes the world.