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What’s Your Name?
A Reflection on the Gospel of Luke 1:57-66
(Internet Image from Dacey)
When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said in reply, “No. He will be called John.” But they answered her, “There is no one among your relatives who has this name.” So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called. He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,” and all were amazed. (Luke 1:59–63 NABRE)
Names are important. They often describe someone individually. For example, if I tell you my name, Mark Mueller, a certain image, or conception of who I am, based on whatever impressions you have of me, may be conjured in your mind. You may also note in my name my German ancestry, although, in reality, there is a lot of Irish. So, you know by my name a bit of my heritage. A person’s name may similarly have a certain story behind it within each family which parents want to retain or remember. In this case, the name links to a larger family history.
A person’s name may also have an element of faith attached to it by someone who gave it to you. An old and beautiful tradition would be to name a child for the Saint on whose Feast Day they are born. My Mother told me that she always liked the Gospel of St Mark and his symbol, the Winged Lion. I was born on a Sunday, and she thought that name very appropriate. A name describes not just who I am but also those who love me.
Names have a certain power. When someone mentions or calls my name, my ears perk up and I listen or respond. In that sense, someone who knows my name has a certain power over me. When you hear of someone trying to separate themselves from their past or avoid apprehension, one of the first things they do is change their name. To give or take away a name also implies dominion. God brings all creatures to Adam so that he can give them a name (Genesis 2:19). Adam has dominion. To take away someone’s name is often the first form of dehumanization. Prisoners are often reduced to a number, not a name. In the Holocaust, Nazi guards did not refer to concentration camp victims by name. They used the number tattooed on each prisoner’s arm. Nazi authorities even forbade, with the punishment of a severe beating, the use of names between prisoners.
In Sacred Scripture, a name often describes an individual or group divine mission. An Angel of the Lord tells both Mary and Joseph to name their child Jesus or, in Hebrew, yeshua', meaning “Yahweh saves.” In His name is His mission. In the Gospel today, it is important that St Elizabeth and Zechariah name their son, John. St Bede writes that,
“John means “the grace of God” or “in whom there is grace.” By this name are expressed the entire extent of the grace of the gospel dispensation which he was to proclaim, and especially the Lord himself, through whom this grace was to be granted to the world.” (Homilies on the Gospels quoted in Just)
In the Gospel today, St Elisabeth and Zachariah are adamant that like their own lives, that their child must conform his life to God’s divine will, and that starts with his name, John. God’s design is not for just a few. God has a plan, a mission, a name, for every life. The author of Psalm 139 writes that before we were even formed in the womb, God fashioned us in accordance with his divine will.
You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works! My very self you know. My bones are not hidden from you, When I was being made in secret, fashioned in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me unformed; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be. (Psalm 139:13–16 NABRE)
There are two important implications of this truth.
First, every life has an immeasurable significance. Every life is part of God’s great, detailed, and beautiful tapestry called Divine Providence. This should inspire us. Each of us has, in God, a name. It is for us to discern that name, that mission, and live up to it each and every day. It also means that no matter what has gone wrong in each life, we have a mission, and God is counting on us as much as we are counting on Him. Therefore, make each day count!
Second, every life, regardless of the circumstances of his or her conception, is of infinite value. Every life is precious and loved in the eyes of God. Every life plays a critical part in God’s plan. Therefore, in the words of Catholic Poet, John Donne; “Each man's death diminishes me.” Regardless of what we may think of another, God loves our neighbor as much as He loves us. We cannot discount that life or abuse it. Certainly, no one has the right to selfishly snuff out that life from the moment of conception until natural death. In doing so, we diminish, through sin, God’s plan. Yet, when things do go wrong, it is a grace of God’s Providence that He takes even our worst actions and somehow brings good from them (Romans 8:28).
As we prepare to celebrate the nativity of the Lord, a Child named Jesus, God Saves, let us also recall that God tells us,
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine. When you pass through waters, I will be with you; through rivers, you shall not be swept away. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, nor will flames consume you. For I, the LORD, am your God, the Holy One of Israel, your savior. (Isaiah 43:1b–3 NABRE)
I once read incredibly good life advice; “carve your name on hearts, not tombstones.” That is what our Lord calls us to do. He is calling you by name. Are you ready to answer?
“Speak, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:10 NABRE)
Dacey, James Jr. "His Name Is John." Beads of Joy, beads-of-joy-blog.blogspot.com/2018/06/his-name-is-john.html.
Just, Arthur A., ed. Luke. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005. Print. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture.
New American Bible. Revised Edition (NABRE). Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011. Print.
Ramos, Alex. “Jesus Christ, Titles of.” Ed. John D. Barry et al. The Lexham Bible Dictionary 2016: n. pag. Print.