Deut. 18:15-20, 1 Cor. 8:1-13, Mark 1:21-28
To give someone else a name is to try to exercise power over them, for good or for ill. Clubs and cliques confer nick-names to signify acceptance, appreciation and membership.
School yard bullies use nicknames to ostracize and diminish. Like the former President who liked to make up shaming nick-names for his opponents.
The demonic spirit in Mark’s gospel does a little of both: he tries to shame and flatter. He names Jesus by his hometown (“Nazareth” – a bit of an insult) and by his deepest identity (a holy one of God.) Neither one worked to diminish Jesus’ real power and authority. The name-calling merely revealed to Jesus and to others listening that the unclean spirit was afraid of Jesus. With good cause.
The names others call us – whether flattering or shaming – only have as much power as we give them.
In “The Hill We Climb” Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman recalled the names and labels which others had used for her.
“… skinny Black girl…”
“…descended from slaves…”
“… and raised by a single mother…”
But no name or label had defined or diminished her power and authority. On Inauguration Day 2021, she stood on an international stage, regally, and claimed her accomplishments. She has not yet fulfilled her childhood dream of becoming president, but the dream of being a poet has been accomplished. Everyone who heard her perform her poetry knows that. She has already proved the name-callers wrong.
Jesus was sure of his power, as were the people who kept coming to the synagogue to hear him teach. As they said, “[He teaches] as one with authority.” That day in the synagogue, Jesus’ power was sufficient to enable him to silence the name-caller. Later, his authority would enable him to exorcise many demons, heal the sick and still the storm.
We may not be able to work all of those wonders right now. But holding on to our power and authority, we can prove the name-callers wrong.