When I was a kid, I remember being called “Four Eyes.” Certainly I wasn’t the only one to wear glasses, but apparently mine were noticeable enough to give me a nickname. A label.
In our culture, we are good at labels, because they tell us who we are, and who we are supposed to be. And so, when we know someone’s “label,” we can pigeon-hole them in a category that tells us what we can expect people with that label to do.
So, we might say: Oh, of course you feel that way about this issue, you are a Democrat; a Republican; or you’re one of those Independents. It’s no surprise that you joined that demonstration; you’re an immigrant, you’re an environmentalist, you’re an activist.
Labels tell me who you are, and what I can expect you to do, and be. In his poem, The Unknown Citizen, W.H. Auden points to a man who is and does, what he is supposed to be, and do.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace; when there was war, he went.
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.
There is a woman in the Bible who society expected to just go along with the label they had given her. Instead, in Mark 7 we read about a Gentile woman who refuses to be limited and boxed-in, and this labeled, no-name, pagan woman stands up in the presence of Jesus.
The truth is: she had no business being in the presence of Jesus because of her labels. She was a Gentile and she was a woman, and so she should have remained silent and off the pages of scripture. Even Jesus seems to recognize this, when he says: It’s not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.
Wow! What happened to Jesus, meek and mild? Is he being harsh, living down to the expectations of all those around him?
Or is it possible that this is another Peniel experience (where Jacob wrestles with God)? Is Jesus inviting this woman to wrestle with what she really wants?
If so, she takes the invitation, and Jacob-like, she parries with Jesus. Lord, she says: Even the dogs eat from the children’s crumbs.
And this wrestling, this Psalm-like defiance, gets this woman what she needs – and she goes home with more than leftovers, for she wrestles from Jesus wholeness for her demon-possessed daughter.
Is it possible that Jesus wants the same thing from us? Is it possible that he calls us to choose between labels and life? It seems to me that the more tightly people hold on to their labels, the less likely they are to hear the invitation to life that Jesus offers.
The Bible is full of people like Jacob, like Ruth; like Bartimaeus, and Zacchaeus, the 10th leper, and this Gentile woman; individuals who are ready to break beyond their labels, and to wrestle with the Divine, and grab hold of Jesus, and not let go of the wholeness, and the life, that he gives.
How about you?