Sunday, January 5, 2014

What's in a Name?

A few days ago we celebrated the Memorial of the Holy Name of Jesus. Doesn't it strike you as a little odd that we have a feast devoted to a name? What's a name but a string of syllables attached to a thing or person? What makes a name special or holy? What's in a name?

A name is a personal marker. It's personal in that it is specific and individualized, and a marker in that it is a sign that identifies. A name points out a particular thing: my name is Nick, your name is Bob, his name is Jack, her name is Sally. It's an intimate part of who we are.

Names not only mark out individuals, but they allow for social relationships; indeed, there's not much need to mark out individuals unless they're among other individuals! Sharing your name is one of the first steps in social contact. When you introduce yourself, you create a bond with someone, that little bit of social glue--"Oh hey, it's what's-his-name." Think of how shocking it is when a stranger knows your name, or when you forget the name of someone you know you're meant to know! To know someone's name is to have a certain level of intimacy with them.

God's name was a mystery until Moses asked it of Him at the burning bush. With Moses, God established a covenant, a deep and binding relationship, with Israel: you will be my people, and I will be your God. And one could see the revelation of God's name to Moses as a real first step in the covenant, almost an introduction, if you will. Who is this God that calls Israel and binds Himself to them? It is YHWH: "I am who am" or "I am that I am" (Exodus 3:14).

(The meaning of this name is interesting to consider. Some take it to be a gentle rebuke to Moses, like "My name is my name--don't ask impertinent questions." St. Thomas Aquinas took it to be a profound philosophical statement: God identifies Himself as the one who's essence it is to exist, the one for whom existence is necessary: "I am the one who IS." Or, as Peter Kreeft quipped, beginning my quoting Shakespeare: "'What's in a name?' Moses asked God that at the burning bush, and God answered, 'I am.'")

Then God revealed Himself fully in the person of Jesus, "the name above all other names" (Philippians 2:9), "no other name under heaven by which men are saved" (Acts 4:12). Jesus, God in the flesh, makes a new covenant between God and man, sealed in his own blood, and marked by his name. Thus "whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son" (John 14:13). Now God has a personal name, a name which marks Him out and identifies who He is, for Yeshua means, "God saves."

When we pray "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," when we make petitions "in Jesus' name," we invoke that covenant relationship which we entered in Baptism. We say to God: "It's me, God. It's your friend. I know your name! You are "the one who saves"! I know who you are, and you know me. Please, for the sake of our relationship, grant X." The name of Jesus is powerful. Put it to good use.

No comments:

Post a Comment