In the Killer’s song, Human, the group seemingly uses incorrect grammar when they ask: are we human, or are we dancer with the singular form of “dancer”. But there’s a point to it. It calls our attention to the word. And then, we dig deeper. See, the Killers are not singing about you and I being actual dancers. The “Dancer” is a puppet of society, just going through the motions without vital signs, with cold hands, saying goodbye to grace and virtue, sending condolences to good, giving regards to soul and romance, bidding farewell to devotion.
This story in Luke’s Gospel is all about humanity and how some of us can be made to feel less than human.
Jesus was in Gentile territory. Enter a “man of the city,” kind of like saying “a homeless person” or a “vagabond.” Someone on the margins of society. He didn’t have proper clothes and he lived in the cemetery on the outskirts of town. The people of the town even bound him with chains and shackles and kept guard. He was treated as less than human. He was said to have unclean spirits inside of him. The first thing the man does when he sees Jesus is to scream at the top of his voice: “What are you going to do with me? Please, don’t torment me!” The reason for screaming this was because Jesus had already asked the unclean spirits to come out of him. And lo and behold, the man is asked a question nobody ever asked.
What is your name?
So much to that question, considering that for most of his life this human being was made to feel like a monster or an abomination. He had accepted that he wasn’t human.
So he said that his name was legion—referring to all those unclean spirits that had been living inside him. Now a legion is a large group of soldiers, and I’m pretty sure it’s not a coincidence that Luke’s author included this word, especially with the Roman legions looming at every turn the closer one got to Jerusalem. This guy was afflicted—it was like an entire army was pushing him down.
But now the legion of unclean spirits wasn’t his problem anymore, not after Jesus talked to him. The unclean spirits decided it was preferable to enter a herd of pigs and dive off a cliff to ground, rather than face the judgement they deserved for mistreating this person for so long. Of course, the pigherders were a little perturbed [and probably confused], but at least this gave them the day off. So they headed to the city to tell people what happened.
When they did, the once-vagabond-dead-unclean person was now fully clothed and sane. And notice that instead of celebrating this and congratulating the man for his clear improvement, the people were afraid. I guess their categorization of this person as unclean and not human was so engrained in their heads that they refused to accept anything else. So they sent Jesus away. Of course, as Jesus got on a boat to leave, the man who had just been given his humanity back wanted to go with Jesus.
I mean, why would he want to stay with the people who de-humanized him in the first place?
But Jesus, in an act of brilliance, told the man to “go home.” Not to the cemetery on the outskirts of town, not to the chains and shackles, not to the stigmas and marginalization. Return home. Go back to the place you always had, at least in God’s eyes—your full humanity. And I also think that perhaps Jesus told him to go home so that all these scared, prejudice, and selfish people would have to deal with their awful mistake every time they saw this guy they once called less than human. The people would have to choose, like the unclean spirits they fed and grew, whether to face their true selves and how they destroyed someone’s life or to run away from it like a herd of pigs diving off a cliff.
Harsh? Not really. Think about it. I think the WORST thing we do as humans is to de-humanize another. What are the historical things we continue to talk about? Times when we did that to each other. Slavery; holocaust; genocide; marginalization; discrimination. Unlike animals, we are horribly capable of looking at another human being who has the same DNA and the same basic stuff that we’ve got, and we’re still capable of saying that they are not human, that they are lesser than us.
For society sadly encourages us to categorize each other and de-humanize each other. See, we are encouraged to send certain types of people to the outskirts of town, hoping we won’t see them again. We send them to the cemeteries, for they are unclean, we are told. They are dangerous, we are told. We even go so far as to bind them with chains and shackles, shut them up in prison cells for a near lifetime, giving them a number and stripping them of a name; or we don’t even have room for them there, so we shove them into cages with no food or water, hoping that they’ll give up on this whole “human” thing and retreat to their unclean spaces, far, far away from us. We sic ICE on them to “clean up” our towns and cities of “illegals” and we run out transgender people from the military and shun them in the workplace. WE refuse to bake wedding cakes for gay couples and we ignore women’s pleas when they are harassed in the workplace. We tell Black and Brown people to “get over” discrimination and racism; we laugh at or ignore rhetoric and TV shows and movies that de-humanize people of Asian heritage.
See, society seeks to turn us into puppets—not REAL people, just puppets. And so we obey the manipulator of the strings, and in doing so, we dehumanize others and ourselves.
But this is not what we are made to be, actually.
See, those who want you to see how powerful they are will always mistreat you and try to take away your dignity. They’ll call you names and bully you. Because they are afraid.
We don’t have to be afraid.
Because people who want to see how powerful you are love you. They will empower you, and not only that, they will sometimes be a voice for you when needed and stand with you when other won’t—they will always recognize your humanity.
It’s when we realize that our own humanity is bound up in the humanity of others, we all win. We can’t be human unless we’re human together. For if I value my humanity above another’s, I have just made myself less human. But if I value equally the humanity of another, I have just valued myself.
We ARE humans. And we dance together. Let us restore humanity.