What’s in a Name?
By The Rev. Alex Stevenson
What’s in a name? Apparently not much, because the Bible doesn’t even tell us what this man’s name was. I’m sure the Gerasenes has some names for him. Like “that Waco who lives in the grave yard,” or “that guy who is a few figs short of a bushel,’ or “the one whose sail doesn’t go all the way up his mast.”
The Jews had a few names for him too. At the top of the list was “Demon Possessed” but “Unclean” was among them. His was an extreme but classic case of demon possession. The demon was unclean so it drove him to live in one of the most unclean places. It would cause him to live in the wilderness without any clothes on.
And of course we have a few names for this unnamed man. Names like “Paranoid Schizophrenic with Delusions of Grandeur and Persecution,” “Dangerous to Himself and Others,” “Homeless,” or just plain “Crazy.”
What’s in a name? Well, apparently quite a bit because Jesus asks for a name. Instead of calling this poor man names like the Gerasenes, Jews and us, Jesus cuts to the chase. He asks the demon, “What is your name?” In fact if you have a red letter edition you will notice that this is the only thing Jesus says in this passage except for “Go home and tell what God has done” at the end.
Even the demon seems to feel that names are important. It may seem strange to us but the demon knows who Jesus is! And right away it addresses Jesus. But he doesn’t call him “Jesus of Nazareth,” but “Jesus, Son of the Most High.” And recognizing who Jesus is, it pleads with him for mercy.
Ancient Hebrew belief considered names important. Knowing a demon’s name gave you power over it. That is why Jesus asked for the demon’s name. That name is revealing for when the name is told the magnitude of his problem becomes apparent. He doesn’t have “a” demon but a legion of demons in him.
What’s in a name? Obviously everything! Once Jesus has the name he has the power to command the demons to leave. In an ironic act of mercy he allows the demons to enter a herd of pigs. The demons seem to like the arrangement even if the pigs didn’t. And after all, having an extra thousand or more demons wandering around the countryside was not good for the local population.
The end result of naming the demon is that the man, whatever his name is, was returned to his senses. The people found him sitting at Jesus’ feet clothed and in his right mind. What would they call him now? “The guy who used to be a few figs short of a bushel?” It was a little disconcerting to the people. It is unclear whether it was the loss of the pigs or the spiritual power demonstrated by Jesus but for one or the other reason they asked Jesus to leave.
And what about “What’s His Name?” He asked to follow Jesus and presumably become one of his disciples. If he had we might be naming John Doe of the Gerasenes in the same breath with Mary Magdalene and Joseph of Arimathea. But Jesus sent him away with the command to tell others how much God had done.
What’s in a name? A lot, if you name the right thing. Everyone was spending a lot of time calling the man in this story names. Yet they didn’t bother trying to name his problem. Instead of labeling this poor guy they should have asked what his problem was. Jesus was able to see past the labels and name the real problem then deal with it and help the man.
We spend a lot of time labeling people instead of getting to know them. I remember a guy I met when I was volunteering at the Washington Street Soup cellar. I forget his name but I got to know him. He was young, about 19, and so was I, and he was a regular at the soup kitchen. I got to know him one day when he was trying to convince one of the volunteers that the Earth was closer to the Sun in the winter. I took his side and assure the doubtful volunteer that indeed the Earth was closer to the Sun when it is winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Contrary to what you would think it is the tilt of the Earth not its distance from the Sun that determines the seasons.
Most people would look at the young man and call him “homeless” or “unemployed.” They might have even labeled some mental and emotional troubles. I know the volunteer assumed he was crazy when he said the Earth was closer to the Sun in the winter. But I came to know him as a young intelligent man. And I realized that along with other problems he needed someone to listen and be a friend.
What’s in a name? When dealing with demons it’s everything. Those who have dealt with demons of alcoholism and other addictions will tell you that admitting and naming the problem is half the solution. Naming the demon is the first step in casting it out. Too often we cannot name our own demons.
But for Christ naming the demons is easy. The one who calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee can calm the storms in our lives. He knows us by name and he knows our problems. He can also help us to name our demons.
Then by the power of the Son of God Most High, he can cast them out. But that can be scary. Maybe that is why the people asked that Jesus leave. They were afraid he would start naming their demons.
What’s in a name? The world if the name is “Jesus.” In the name of Jesus there is healing and hope. He can calm the storm. He can forgive our sins. He can save our souls.
He can name our demons and cast them out. Sometimes that can be scary. Who will we be when he does that? We might even need to change our name or at least the one that everyone calls us by. But Jesus knows our true name – “Child of God.”
Recognize him as the Son of the God Most High, and allow him to heal you and calm the storms of your life!
Copyright 2008, Alex Stevenson. Used by permission.