What’s in a Name?

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.

So Juliette agonizes from a balcony in Verona and we are left to ponder: What’s in a name? Would Juliette love Romeo any less if he had another name? If he were to come from the right family, if his name had not been who could she never love, her father’s enemy, would they have lived happily ever after? What’s in a name? Would a Sunni think of Shiite differently if the names were omitted? Would a Democrat dare to love a Republican even when these labels are used to create division? What’s in a name? How do we define ourselves? How do our words — especially those that we use to describe ourselves — help us to understand each other?

This is the question that was left with me after the Council Retreat last Saturday. As the leaders of the church, we spent that day thinking about the big picture — those questions that the Council has felt couldn’t be squeezed into our monthly business meetings. And so, as is bound to happen in this age after Christendom when everything that we ever assumed to be true has changed right in front of our very eyes, we kept using that word. Change. And the more we said it, the more that word bounced around, the more we felt like that great many people on the Gerasene countryside. It’s too much change, too fast. We’d really rather that Jesus just leave (Luke 8:37, The Message).

One Council member longed for us to use another word. We could make change. We could do those things, but we can’t call it change. It’s the word. The word causes that reaction. And so, I wonder: what is in a name? Is a rose by any other name just as sweet? Is Mob, this man with so many demons, by any other name just as afflicted?

Because his response just breaks my heart. His name is Mob. In other translations, it’s just as big but has a more militaristic sound. His name is Legion. In both names, in whatever the translation, it seems that he is so weighed down by his afflictions that he can no longer articulate is own identity. Instead, he has become his afflictions. They name him. He has no other identity. He is tied down by them with chains and shackles. No matter how much he might like to shatter those bonds, he can’t seem to do it. So, he tells the Son of the Most High of his affliction. He lets it define him. His name is Mob.

It’s easy to see that in someone else — that person that can’t quite escape from poverty, that person that is trapped in their mental illness, that person for whom life seems so very out of control. Because we like control. It’s what we do. It’s what the people in the country of Gerasene do. They try to control the demons. They chain and shackle it. They keep it out of their homes, and force it to reside down by the tombs. But, what if you can’t leave it there at the tombs? What if it follows you home? What if Mob is your name?

Because I am willing to bet that there are things that chain and shackle you. There are things that have you bound so tightly that you don’t know who or what you are without those things. I heard this said on NPR this week. Glenn Greenwald was talking about the surveillance state when he caught my attention with these words:

And that’s one of the things that constantly surveilling people and constantly communicating to them that they are powerless … does to people. It convinces them that the tiny little box in which they live is really the only box in which they want to live. So they no longer even realize they are being imprisoned. Rosa Luxemborg put that best. She said, “he who does not move does not notice his chains.”

It may all sound like the same thing: snooping, spying, eavesdropping. But, it’s not the word that matters. It is what that thing — that action — does to us. It is how it makes us feel. How it limits us from seeing anything beyond the definition of that word. That is, until we move. And I’m not even sure that we need to physically move. But, something moves — our hearts, our heads or maybe just our eyes. For then, we set our gaze upon Jesus.

Jesus, the Son of the Most High, sees our chains. He sees what shackles us so well that he asks us our name. Not what’s wrong with us. Not what weighs us down. Not what keeps us so tightly bound. He asks, “What is your name?”

Because you are not your affliction. You are not supposed to label yourself with that identity. No matter how familiar and comfortable it is. It is not who you are. That affliction — that name you have allowed to define you — is to be thrown into the bottomless pit. Because it isn’t part of you. Jesus sees this when no one else can. There is a part of you that really does make sense. There is a part of you that wears decent clothes. There is a part of you that doesn’t have to be quite so scary. It’s that thing that you might not want to name. It might be too much change, too fast. You might prefer that Jesus leave you well enough alone. But, if it’s really just a name, if that rose is just as sweet by any other name, why not embrace that holy moment? Why not let all of those words — all of those afflictions that have chained and shackled you — become the very things that allow you to go home and tell everyone everywhere about the many things that God has done for you?

These words offer a reflection on the things I tried to preach this morning from the good news in Luke 8:26-39. If you were in worship this morning, you heard one of our awesome youth speak Juliette’s words with amazing power.

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