Love is the boss.
24th Sunday B 9/16/18 Is50, James2, Mk8:27-35 Epiphany 4, 10, 12 JMayzik SJ
The other day I turned on my phone and started to dial and didn’t realize that I had actually answered an incoming call—which I don’t usually do if I don’t recognize the number. I heard a voice on the other side say "hello?", which surprised the heck out of me, and so I said back, "hello", and the other person said to me, "Who's this?" and I was about to say who I was, and then I stopped, and said, "who's this?", and the guy said, "No, you tell me who you are first," with a tone in his voice of great suspicion and almost as an accusation. So I reacted and said, "No, you tell me", and he said, "No, why should I," and I said, "well, why should I," and then he hung up before I had a chance to hang up on him.
New York is a place of very suspicious people, isn’t it…aren’t we? People don't trust one another very much here, especially when they can't see one another on the telephone. How many times do you try to leave a message for someone on their phone and you get this computer voice: "hello, you've called 212 678-0859 and no one is here to take your call. Please leave your name and number and someone will get back to you"? In a city like this, a lot of people do not like to give their name to strangers.
My niece Amanda and her roommate Steph have lived in a big apartment building near Columbus Circle for over five years. The other night at dinner one of them mentioned that there are 15 apartments on their floor, and I asked them if they knew anyone’s name. No, they said, “We have no idea who they are, and they don’t know us. We never even see them.”
“You’ve lived on that floor for five years and you don’t know the name of a single person?” I asked, but it really wasn’t a question, just an exclamation point on my part. It’s not so surprising, actually. I suspect that you don’t know a lot of people in your own apartment building either. But in human terms, don’t you think it’s a little weird that we live in such close proximity to one another and don’t even know their first names? I suggested that Amanda and Steph throw a floor party, but they were not so sure. “We don’t know if they are any stalkers living among us, and anyway, we’re not sure we want to even give them our names”.
Your name is an important thing, and it's not something you give out lightly. Your name is who you are, and when you put your signature on something--a check, a report, a love letter, a contract--you are committing your very self to the receiver of the item. Do you remember when you were younger, trying out your signature on scrap paper, a hundred different ways of writing the letters, slanted to the left or right, big capitals or little, legible or illegible, how you dot the i, tiny or boldscript? What signature made you feel cool, impressive, friendly, open?
I settled into my name and signature probably in my college years, and then when I became a Jesuit I had to add something else: the letters S.J.. They stand for the Society of Jesus, the formal name of the religious order I joined. That was a huge identity threshold for me to cross—to forever link my name and signature to Jesus---and to be honest, it took a while for me to really embrace it.
A friend taught CCD to a bunch of grade school girls and boys, and he was really good at it. He knew instinctively that the first thing he needed to do to get their attention and their interest was to learn their names. He tried to memorize all the names before he even met them, wondering what Emily might look like, or how Liam might sound, or what Louise’s favorite color might be. He had a good heart, my friend, and he knew that the most important way for him to talk about Jesus was to communicate to these kids how much he automatically, instantly loved them, each and every one of them. And that every time he, their teacher, called them by name—Darren and Amanda and Sarah and Joey and Bryan and Jennifer---it would always be with an undertone of love, a loving undertone, implicit in his relationship to this treasure of their parents. I have no doubt that they got the message, and that they trusted him and his deep care for who they were.
At one of their CCD sessions, he decided to ask them to re-name Jesus. He explained to them that he thought that the name was getting in the way a bit, that people took Jesus too much for granted, so much so that they even used his name for all the wrong reasons. Maybe give him a new name to wake up their hearts. “What should be his new name,?” he asked. The kids offered a bunch: Bob, The Dude, Jackie, Mannie, Thunderman. Someone suggested Mister Louie, and since my friend had 10 extra votes as the teacher and that was the one he preferred, that’s was the new name they used interchangeably with his real name Jesus, or Yeshua ben Joseph, son of Joseph, Joe’s boy. My friend told me that the new name helped his kids to appreciate Mister Louie’s miracles more than when his name was a name people use when they lose their tempers. He said that it helped them talk about “how he must have felt when he healed a blind man with spit and mud, when he prayed desperately for a little dead girl to come alive, when he had a sponge filled with bitter vinegar crammed into his mouth by a sneering soldier.” They talked about how they could ask Mister Louie for help “when they felt like crying or were really scared or so angry they wanted to throw a basketball at an annoying brother”. But the most touching thing about my friend’s CCD project of renaming Jesus was when one of his kids said something that hit the nail on the head. “It doesn’t matter what we call him,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what his name is really. It just matters that we can still talk to him and that he said love is the boss. Isn’t that right?”
Love is the boss. Yeah, I think that was the main message that Jesus, Yeshua ben Joseph, or Mister Louie, if you will, had to give to us. Love is the boss, and maybe that’s the message he got himself when he was dunked under the dirty waters of the River Jordan by his odd cousin the Baptizer. From that moment on, he experienced the dawning realization of his life mission—to tell people, to tell everyone that love is the boss. His most powerful expression of that message was proclaimed as he willingly allowed himself to be hung on two pieces of wood, Yeshua, Joe’s boy, up there.
When Jesus asked Peter, his chief lieutenant, his future successor “who do you say that I am” and Peter answered “why, you’re the Christ”, he didn’t really get it, or mean it. And you know why? Because Peter would soon give lie to that name, three times, when Mister Louie was being humiliated and tortured and dragged through the streets to the laughter of the crowds and Peter was nowhere to be found. But he got it afterwards. He got it after the impossible became possible, after Jesus truly became the Christ alive, risen from the dead. Love is the boss, love indeed is the boss. Peter believed it then, facing the impossibly risen Jesus, the true Christ. And so the question I want to ask is: do you? Do New Yorkers all really believe that he is the Christ?
Who you say that Mister Louie or Yeshua ben Joseph or Jesus is actually gives away your own true identity. If you say he is the Christ, if you say he is the Lord, if you say that he is the Lord of all Universes, Shepherd King, Beloved Word, Master Teacher, Boss of Love, Loving Boss, well then, you have no fear, do you, of any stranger who calls your cellphone unannounced, or of the 15 heretofore unknown fellow floormates in your apartment house, or anyone who you have allowed to be a stranger to you, and not a sister or brother. If Love is the boss, and Jesus is the guarantee, why, aren’t we required to take that message out into a world that so desperately needs to hear it, experience it, know it for themselves?
You know there is power in the name of Love, incredible power in the name of Love, and the name of Love is Jesus.
It's not a bad thing to have the name of Jesus trailing after your own name: Bruce, best friend of Jesus; Carol, daughter of Christ; Matt, follower of the Fisherman; Ann, assistant to the Lord. Wouldn’t such an addition to your name be a good reminder of who you are really meant to be? We, all of us suspicious New Yorkers, could use the power of that name to break down the barriers that stand tall all around us. The power behind the name of Jesus could work wonders, like he did, for our families, for our neighborhoods, for our city, our country and our world.
Imagine what would happen if you really believed in Jesus, imagine how it would change your every thought and word, your every action! Just imagine this: what if you invited everyone on your floor to a party, what if we as a family went out of this church and invited everyone we met back for a party right here?
How about it? Who do YOU say you are, my friends?
(With gratitude for Brian Doyle)