Social inclusion is a common phrase.
Depending on who you trust, the socially excluded in our own country can run into thousands, if not millions. According to statistics produced by anti – poverty charities as many as 1 in 5 children in the UK live in poverty. According to another charity, the 80 wealthiest people on the planet, who could all fit into a London bus, have more net worth between them than 3.5 billion people on the planet.
Of course, it’s not just a lack of money that leads to exclusion. Race, religion, being a refugee, mental illness and just being old and alone – can all lead people into isolation. More often than not it can help just to ask people their name – instead of thinking of them as a category.
Jesus met many socially excluded people in his ministry – he seemed to gravitate to them. One day he met a mentally unstable man who slept in a graveyard, whom the local people had tried unsuccessfully to chain and who cut himself with stones – he was self – harming, in today’s jargon.
Jesus asked his name. But instead of giving his true name, he said, “My name is Legion”. Basically, he defined himself by his ailments and there were so many things wrong with him, it felt like a whole army was assaulting him.
It is so easy to exclude those who struggle with life and to define people by what’s wrong with them, rather than giving them their real name.
Jesus undoes all that, by asking the man his name and restoring his identity, both as a child of God and as a member of a community. That gift of “true worth” as opposed to “net worth” is ours to give too, when we learn to treat everyone with the dignity they deserve. Refugees, mentally ill people whatever – they are all people, with a story to tell and we will not hear that story as long as we just put them into a category.
Lord Jesus Christ, who met people as people and honoured them by asking their true name, help us in all our encounters today, to grant those we meet the gift of true respect, if only by asking their name as you did, rather than seeing them as a category. In your name we pray. Amen.