Last Sunday we read the story in Luke's Gospel of Jesus' encounter with a madman.
Naked and unclean, living among the tombs, the wild man is violent and uncontrollable. Yet Jesus engages him, asking, "What is your name?"
In that culture, one's name revealed some of the essence of one's identity. To know another's name was to have power over them. To reveal your name was to be willingly vulnerable.
The madman tells Jesus his name is "Legion." He's saying his afflictions are many -- complicated, entangled, knotty and tortuous. Yet Jesus stays steadfastly with him and uses the power of his love to heal him.
Last week in Florida another madman acted with shocking, murderous violence. Since then we have all asked what could have led anyone to commit such an unspeakable crime. From what we little we know, it seems he, too, was tormented.
Although not especially active religiously, he pledged allegiance to different terrorist groups in Syria that also fight demonically among themselves. He was abusive and controlling toward his spouse. He apparently struggled with his sexual orientation. Like many tortured souls, he turned to suicide. He lashed out in rage against his own image, as it danced around him in a gay nightclub, and in the process took 49 innocent lives with him. He may have acted in the hope of being seen as a hero and martyr among those who, had they truly known him, would have thrown him off a building. He was a snarl of anguished, tortured impulses. His name was Legion.
In Luke's story, when the locals see the madman cured, sitting clothed and calm at Jesus' feet, they are frightened. They beg Jesus to leave. Change is hard.
The healed man also wants to leave with Jesus, but Jesus says "No. Go home and 'declare how much God has done for you.'" Become a creative and loving presence among your fearful people, a walking testimony of the assurance that "perfect love casts out fear." (1 John 4:18b)
We have examples of how we can embrace that same creative and loving spirit at moments like this. Jesse Lewis, the grandson of one of my parishioners, was one of the children killed in the elementary school shootings in Sandy Hook, Conn. Jesse's mother, Scarlett, founded the "Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation" to let her son's death become a catalyst for healing. To that end the foundation is creating a free curriculum teaching children to choose love by cultivating their courage, gratitude, forgiveness and compassion. When the curriculum was tested recently at an at-risk school in Waterbury, Conn., my parishioner tells me, the results were "miraculous." Love, casting out fear.
It is exactly those virtues -- courage, gratitude, forgiveness and compassion -- that we, too, must practice as we weather the legion of passions that the Orlando tragedy has once again stirred among us.
We call on those virtues as we work for more understanding and love for our LGBTQI neighbors who face continuing discrimination and hostile legislation.
We call on those virtues as we work for more understanding and love for our Latino neighbors and all immigrants as we wrestle with our broken immigration system.
We call on those virtues as we work for more understanding and love for our Muslim neighbors who now are again grieved and slandered by the evil actions of one who claims their name but acts contrary to the spirit of the Quran and the truest expressions of Islam.
I am encouraged by the work of a New York priest who is a friend of mine. For the past three years, a group he co-founded has been studying guns by interviewing soldiers, police, and gun owners, and reaching out to gun manufacturers. Last April, working with police and gun owners, they organized the first smart-gun technology show in the U.S. Last week they met with congressional aides in Washington to share their free-market proposals, friendly to gun owners, which can make safer guns a real option. His group is bringing some wisdom and coherence to an issue whose complexities are Legion.
Our problems are legion, but we can face them with loving compassion and calm wisdom. As a Christian, I believe Jesus calls us courageously to confront the madness before us, asking, "What is your name?" Then, listen. Seek to understand. Be creative and loving. We can summon wisdom and compassion to respond not out of fear, but with love. It is only love that can cast out fear and bring coherence.
Commentary on 06/21/2016
Print Headline: Seek to understand