January 7, 2018
…at the name of Jesus every knee should bend… and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
In Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel, A Wizard of Earthsea, which I read as a teen, the heart of magic is knowing “the true name of things”. This is not far from the ancient world of Greece and Rome, where it was widely assumed that the essence of a being resided in its name. We see a good example of this in the healing of the Gerasene demoniac (Luke 8:26-31). The demon(s) first name Jesus, in an attempt to have power over him. Jesus, in turn, demands to know the demon’s name, after which the “legion” of demons is expelled.
The power associated with names was such that the ancient Hebrews would not say the name God revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai – and everywhere it occurs in the Hebrew Scriptures, the word Adonai (Lord) is used to replace it. God creates by naming in the first chapter of Genesis: “Light”, “Day/Night”, “earth/heavens”, etc. God gives Adam a share in the responsibility of naming the animals God has created in Genesis 2. This shows the intimate knowledge and understanding the human race was supposed to have in relation to the rest of creation.
God renames people who respond to the call he has given them – like Abram/Abraham; Sarai/Sarah; Jacob/Israel. The renaming corresponds to a new direction in their life. Jesus does the same in renaming Simon the fisherman, who becomes Peter. The names of saints that our youth take on as their Confirmation name should be an indication of their desire the saint be not only an intercessor for them, but also a model for their own life and the new direction they hope to take as a fully initiated member of the Church.
Last Wednesday we celebrated the patronal feast of the Western Dominican Province, the Province “of the Most Holy Name of Jesus.” As early as the 2nd century an early Christian document called The Shepherd of Hermas claimed, “the Name of the Son of God is great and boundless, and upholds the entire universe.” The Gospels demonstrate the name of Jesus has extraordinary power. In his names, demons are cast out and the sick are healed. We are invited to call upon the Name of Jesus in times of temptation, loneliness and illness with faith. His name means “one who saves” and He is Immanuel – “God with us” today.