What's in a name
Reflection on Matthew 9:35 – 10: 8
In this gospel reading we hear of Jesus ministering and teaching in the towns and villages. He has compassion for the people because they seemed so lost, they appeared helpless and stressed but had no one to guide them… v36 ‘like sheep without a shepherd’.
He can see just how ripe the context is for transforming change but here is the problem , while the harvest might be plentiful there are so few labourers. And so He calls the disciples to this work. He gives them authority to heal and cure every disease and sickness and to cast out the spirits that were causing such distress to the people.
What fascinates me in this reading is that in chapter 10:2 4 the names of the 12 disciples are given. Now there are lots of stories of the disciples in the gospels but it is at this particular point that each one he is named.
‘First, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.’
These 12 are sent out with the instructions to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near, to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers and cast out Demons.
So we might say that this naming and sending out then are in some way linked!
Firstly we should note that a name is so much more than just a label. Names have meanings, David for example meant ‘beloved’ Abraham means ‘the Father of many’ and so on. Maybe you have looked to see what the meaning of your own name is.
Sometimes in the Bible, when people go through a transformational change, we see a corresponding name change. Simon became Peter. Saul became Paul. Jacob became Israel, Abram became Abraham, Sarai became Sarah.
But ‘name’ also has a quality that is even deeper than meaning.. To really know someone by name is to know their very essence: Isaiah 43:1
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
Being called by name then is related to our creation, formation and belonging to God. We are the very essence of God in our inmost being even if that essence is not yet realised on the surface.
So to sum up then it seems then that names can be a label to differentiate us from others; there may be an attached meaning to a name, but there is also something about name and the very essence by which we were formed even if we are not aware of or awake to that essence in our mundane worldly lives.
Jesus then is sending out the 12, giving them the authority for the mission, so whilst Matthew gives the names of each of them it is in Jesus’s name, in Jesus’s essence that they go forth – not in their own name.
As disciples of Christ in the world today, we seek to continue the mission. But sometimes I wonder in whose name, in whose authority, in whose essence we are actually acting.
I remember vividly as a teenager witnessing a broken, battered member of a congregation suffering untold physical and psychological abuse at the hands of her husband because the (male) church leader believed Christ’s healing advice would be that she remain in the marriage as a dutiful wife. This is just one example of countless abuses of Christ’s name that have led to violence, bloodshed, abuse and every other injustice one can imagine at the hands of people using that precious name to act out their own ego projections and / or taking the moral high ground. Perhaps thinking has shifted on marriage and domestic violence since then but today has its equivalents and there will be countless stories out there in the world right now which will show us exactly why the church is in decline and people have lost faith in those who claim to act in Christ’s name.
In a way, this brings me back to my core theme that we have been exploring throughout.
Do we really know that essence of Christ moving within our soul because if we don’t we hardly have the authority to act in his name. If we don’t we can only use the name of Jesus as a label to cover the fact that we are really acting from our own ego.
It is spiritual naivety and even arrogance to think that we have the essential depth of wisdom to know God’s voice within us and the self knowledge to know the motives of our own ego unless we have really taken the time to learn, and distinguish both of these voices (whose ‘accents’ are very different) but are both heard within us.
This is why action and contemplation are considered to be the two sides of the same coin one cannot exist without the other. This is why spiritual direction is so important, not just for church leaders but for all who profess to act in Christ’s name.
So the take away from today is about discernment… in whose name are you really acting? Christ’s or your own? Learn to discern the difference and you will have discovered one of the great keys to wisdom.
To close with, a glorious quote from Joan Chittister, an American Benedictine Nun
A humble person handles the presence of the other with soft hands, a velvet heart and and an unveiled mind. ~ Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB