Monday, April 15, 2013

The Demon Possessed Man: Part 6 - Respect

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Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss. A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

This is a section of the Bible that is incredibly near and dear to my heart.  I find it so profound that it's hard for me to add my own thoughts to it.  It's one of those things that I think loses its luster if I try to break it down.  Nevertheless, I recognize that what I see as obvious in these verses may not be as obvious to other people, so I will do my best to explain what I read in it as eloquently as possible.

It all starts with four simple words: "What is your name?"  That's where personhood begins in our minds.  It's easy for us to ignore others, to devalue them... until we know their names.  Then everything is amplified.  (This isn't as strong if we don't already have a face to attach to the name, but I think the name is what gives it definition.)  Don't believe me?  Say these sentences out loud:
That guy makes me sick.
Joseph Kony makes me sick.

That man gives me hope.
Pope Francis gives me hope.
Of course, this exercise works better if you know who these men are, but let's just assume you do (and, if you don't, substitute in the names of people you do know).  Now, ask yourself, which sentence elicited a stronger response?  Names make a difference.  It becomes infinitely harder to dehumanize someone after you have a name for them.  (The reverse is true, too, a tactic employed by Ralph Ellison, the Nazi army, the Borg, and many others... Although the true unnamed protagonist is the only complete example I can give you.)

So what's so profound about that?  Well, the profundity is found in the speaker (Christ) and his addressee (a... demon).  By asking the demon for his name, Christ is essentially saying, "I don't want to de-value you."  [Insert the sound of my mind blowing here.]  We've all heard it said that we should love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), but I think even the most G-dly of us only took this imagery to that of Christ praying for those who were try to kill Him.  Seriously, who has ever pictured this to mean that Christ loves, and even prays for demons (possibly even Satan?!)?  And yet, there He is, showing respect and value for a demon.

"What is your name?"

But wait.  There's more.

My mind would be blown even if He left it there.  But, in true Jesus-fashion, He doesn't.  The demons turn around and beg Him to not throw them back in the Abyss.  They even say, "Please, please, please, please let us experience drowning rather than make us go back there!"(Side Note: How horrible must hell be for them to beg Christ to let them drown rather than return to it?)  Every time I read this, there's a part of me that expects Christ to reply, "Away from me, you vile creature!  Have you not brought this upon yourself?  Return to your prince of darkness."  I think there's ample Biblical evidence that would allow for eyelids to remain un-batted at this response.  But that's not what Christ says.  Christ turns everything about human justice on its head with His answer.

"...He gave them permission."

So let's review:

  1. Christ meets a demon.
  2. The demon recognizes Christ.
  3. Christ doesn't assess the demon as a purely evil, lost cause.
  4. Christ is polite to the demon.
  5. The demon is polite back to Christ.
  6. The demon begs for mercy.
  7. Christ gives the demon the mercy it wanted.
All this with the henchman of the guy who tried to take over Christ's Kingdom, failed, convinced a third of the angels to abandon Christ with him, and continues to try to take over/get even by swaying Christ's beloved children to follow him.

And you think you can't be civil to the annoying person at the desk next to you?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." -Matthew 5:43-48

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