Holy Name Of Jesus: Whats In A Name?
The Feast day of Epiphany was within two years after the circumcision of Christ. It is at the circumcision of John the baptist that we see that a name is given to a child. My understanding is that the circumcision is done on the eighth day of the boys birth and he is not given a name until then (see Luke 1:59)
Fast forward to the baptism of Jesus. Although this baptism was a baptism of repentance and not the sacramental baptism of the Church, it did remind me of one thing that happens when we are baptized into the Church.
When an Adult is baptized, the adult is asked at one point, "What is thy name?" Once the Adult answers, the priest then interrogates the named person with questions such as, "(name) dost thou believe in God the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth?" ....and so on. The named Adult than answers.
In infant baptism, when the question is asked, "What is thy name?", the sponsors of the child gives the answer for the child. Then the priest interrogates the named person with the same question as mentioned above. Except in the infant's case the sponsors answers for the child.
The point being is that the name of the person being baptized is asked for.
And now we come to January 2021 where we celebrate all month long the Holy Name of Jesus.
In each of the moments in time that I mentioned, circumcision, baptism, and the feast of the Holy name of Jesus, the underlining word that I thought of was the word "Name" Which got me to thinking on the importance of a name.
What's in a Name?
An easy question to start: does anyone know who Reginald Dwight, Jennifer Anastassakis Maurice Micklewhite is?
Reginald Dwight is [Elton John] Jennifer Anastassakis is [Jennifer Aniston] Maurice Micklewhite is [Michael Caine].
In celebrity life, a name change seems to be more the rule than the exception. People's names matter — your name is your identity, and you want that identity to be right. So up and coming celebrities will choose themselves names that suit their aspirations.
There were some other name changes outside of the celebrity lights, but in the case of these name changes they were names chosen and given by God.
A name change is significant
It's well known that people's names are often important in the Bible. So when Adam calls his wife Eve, it's significant and we should pay attention. When Rebekah gives birth to twins and names one of them Jacob, Deceiver, it's significant. Or when Isaiah names his son Maher-shalal-hashbaz, there is a good reason for it. And when Hosea's wayward wife bears a son and the Lord says to name him Lo-ammi, meaning "Not My People", a sad point is being made.
So we should be interested in people's names in the Bible. And we should be especially interested when people's names are changed, because it is always very significant.
For example, we find Abram and Sarai renamed Abraham and Sarah right after God renews his covenant with them, to make Abraham the father of a multitude of nations.
We find Jacob renamed Israel right after he had spent a night wrestling with God. He was no longer Jacob the deceiver, but Israel, the one who wrestles with God.
And when in Hosea, his son Lo-ammi, Not my People, is renamed by God, You are my People, it signals a turning point in the book, and in relationship with God.
It works the other way as well. The Babylonians understood very well the significance of names. So when they came and conquered Jerusalem and took its people into captivity they were careful to change their names as well, so as to completely cut off their former identities. We see this at the beginning of the book of Daniel. Daniel, meaning God is my Judge, is renamed Belteshazzar which honoured the pagan god Bel, instead of Israel's God. And the same went for his three friends: Hananiah was renamed Shadrach; Mishael, Meshach; and Azariah, Abednego.
So name changes in the Bible always mark very significant events, and often tell of big changes in relationships with God.
The change of a name is a very public statement of a change of relationship, a commitment to a new life. In the marriage life the old single life is put behind; the new name marks the start of a new joint life.
In the same way, when God changes people's names in the Bible, it marks the start of a new relationship, or a new phase in relationship with him.
A name change for Simon
And Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who had heard of John, and followed him.
He findeth first his brother Simon, and saith to him: We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.
And he brought him to Jesus. And Jesus looking upon him, said: Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is interpreted Peter. John 1:40-42
Andrew, Simon's brother has just met Jesus, and the first thing he does is to find Simon and tell him "We have found the Messias". And he brought him to Jesus.
And the first thing Jesus does is to change Simon's name: "thou shalt be called Cephas, which is interpreted Peter"
Understand that Jesus and his disciples spoke Aramaic, but when the Gospels were written down, they were written in Greek. And of course, we read them in English. So John gives us both the Aramaic and Greek forms of the name. The Aramaic word "Kepha" and the Greek "Petros" (which we anglicised as "Peter") both mean "Rock".
Jesus is saying to Simon son of John: I am changing your name. From now on you will be called Rock.
But we must understand that this is more than simply a nickname. Jesus isn't saying to Peter, "Oh, I've got another disciple called Simon in mind. I'll tell you what, let's call you Peter so we don't all get confused." There was another disciple called Simon (Simon the Zealot} but that's not why Jesus renamed Simon son of John.
We can see that in the reading from Matthew chapter 16 where Jesus re-confirms the renaming of Peter: I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.
Peter will be a rock not only by name, but by nature as well. He will be foundational in the church that Jesus is building.
When Jesus renames Simon it's not simply a nickname. Simon has met God face to face, and God did what God does: he changed his name. As Peter he now has a new relationship and a new purpose in his life.
What did Jesus see in him that prompted him to call him a rock?
If you read through the Gospels you will not see a man who we could consider a Rock.
He tries to walk on water-and fails! He begins to sink.....Well....like a rock!
At one point Jesus turns to the Rock and says "Go behind me, Satan, thou art a scandal unto me: because thou savourest not the things that are of God, but the things that are of men." see Matthew 16:21-23
Some translations uses the word stumbling block instead of the word scandal.
Peter has deeply misunderstood Jesus' plan to die, and tries to argue him out of it. So here Peter is not so much like a foundational rock, but a stumbling rock to Jesus.
Again, we find Peter denying Jesus just before his death. Three times he told a blatant lie, he called down curses on himself and he swore to them, "I don't know the man" He not only lies but he betrays his Lord: abandoning him at the last. He wasn't living up to his name was he?
We find Peter constantly falling asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus prays his heart out. We find him babbling with fright at the transfiguration. We find him rebuked by Jesus for cutting off someone's ear with a sword. And so on and so on.
After a while you might begin to think that Jesus was being a bit ironic when he named Peter "Rock".
What did Jesus see in Peter? Knowing that all this was to come, what was it that prompted Jesus to declare Peter a rock?
Well, the passage in Matthew 16 is key. Despite all his human failings, Jesus could make Peter rock-like because he knew and trusted one thing. When Jesus asked his disciples "whom do you say that I am?", Simon Peter answered, "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God."
And it is this statement that prompts Jesus' famous words, you are Peter you are Rock, and on this rock I will build my church.
Humanly speaking, Peter was far from being a Rock. But he did have one solid, unshakeable belief: that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. That was enough. With that Jesus knew that he could build on Peter a Church that would shake the world.
So when Jesus first met Simon, he knew what was coming. He knew exactly what kind of man Simon was. Yet he named him Peter, the Rock, a name which has stuck for two thousand years.
It is very significant that Jesus did this when he first met Peter. Peter did not earn this name for himself, but Jesus first gave him the name, and then gave him the grace and the Holy Ghost power to live up to it. After Pentecost we see a different kind of Peter one who really was able to live out the name Rock.
And that's how God always deals with us. Jesus always takes the initiative. We never deserve what he gives us.
But it doesn't stop him from giving to whom He pleases. That's what grace is about: God's grace is favour, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life. And that grace, that undeserved help, begins with a new name, a new start.
To him that overcometh, I will give the hidden manna, and will give him a white counter, and in the counter, a new name written. Apocalypse/ Revelation 2:17
St. Primaseus, Caesarius of Arles, and other early Fathers say the same thing. That the counter/stone represents our adoptions as sons through baptism. And that the new name is....Christian.
How do we get this new name that we need so much?
If we realize that our sin has separated us from God, and that we are dead in trespasses and sin, and that by putting our faith, our trust in the death burial and resurrection of Christ, we can be free from sin and death. And through confessing our sins and through the waters of sacramental baptism, we can receive that new name and a new start. No longer will you have the Devil as your Father. (John 8:44) But now you will be adopted sons of God with a new name. Christian!
Are we living up to our new name?