What’s In a Name?
What’s in a name?
Everyone bears a name, and some of us have several names, (even a few nicknames).
There are first names that we have, be it John, Rachel, Pamela, the name that we are known by, the name if used, indicates familiar relationship. We call our closest acquaintances by their first name. These names may carry some significance, perhaps because of their meaning in a language of origin. How many of you know the meaning of your names? Has it influenced how you think of yourself?
For instance, my name, Neil comes from the Gaelic Niall, which is of disputed origin, possibly meaning “champion” or even “cloud”. So I guess this means I’m either a hero or an airhead! This was the name of a semi-legendary 4th-century Irish king, Niall of the Nine Hostages. In the early Middle Ages the name was adopted by Viking raiders and settlers in Ireland in the form Njal. In popularity Neil ranks 629th in the U.S. so I guess I’m not all that popular!
Then there is the family name, surname, which we grew up with, the name our parents bestowed upon us, by the nature of our family of origin. In bearing this name, a responsibility of sorts is placed upon us. The reputation of that name is handed down to us. It Is not just a name, but a family history, and it carries its tradition with it. Back in the little town where I grew up in if you were to go back there and mention the name “Wilson” there are those who would have certain preconceived notions about you just because you mentioned the Wilson name!
There are our middle names which some people find embarrassing. Often middle names are given because they sound nice (I have sister Kathryn Ann, Sylvia Mae) and sometimes they are given to honor the memory of a family member. For instance my middle name is Herbert. I was named after a great uncle Herb McAlister whose funeral my father had been to the day I was born.
Where we live in a city or town or a village, bestows a name upon us. We should be aware that what people think of the city or town may well be derived from what they think of us as individuals. When we share names, our family of origin is identified, or our place of birth, or our occupation, and we may be risking something of the reputation of any of those things, by what we say and do. What was Nathanael’s comment when he heard where Jesus was from? “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (Jn. 1:46)
We know how easy it is for us to use somebody’s name if we want to get through red tape. By using a person’s reputation, by speaking about the person as our friend, who happens to be the boss of a company, or someone important and influential in the organization, we get a lever, an angle, which gives us an advantage. When we quote somebody’s name in a reference, or in letter of recommendation, we are taking hold of something of their reputation.
So, what’s in a name and what’s going on here when Jesus bestowed the name ‘Peter’ on this disciple, Simon?
Peter, Petros ‘the rock’ (and not the movie star!) To some he might better be known as ‘the rock that moved’, with his shaky faith and apparent inability to be consistent. Peter, ‘the rockslide’, in his headlong headstrong rush to express convictions without thinking of the implications and then living to regret the consequences. There are times when he was ‘rock headed,’ or unable to engage with the reality of being a true disciple and finding it tough to follow when it meant endangering his life.
Still, it was Simon, whom Jesus named Petros, to whom Jesus said using a bit of a play on words, “On this petra (rock), I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”
Now there has been various ways which Jesus’ renaming of Simon to Peter has been interpreted. Traditionally it has been understood as Jesus saying that the church was built upon the person of Peter and his unique role in the ministry of the early church. This has led to among other things the concept of apostolic succession, the idea that there can be an authority bestowed upon bishops though the laying on of hands that can be traced back to the first apostles.
Another interpretation, (and a view that seems more plausible to me personally) is that “the rock” Jesus was pointing to was not Peter himself but Peter’s confession. When Jesus asks the disciples “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” It is upon this confession as the foundation, the rock, that the church will be built.
Still Jesus bestowed the name of Petros “rock” on the disciple known as Simon. Naming is important. Over and over in the Bible persons are given new names, places are given new names. In each case there is a good reason for such renaming. And often with the new name came new responsibilities and opportunities.
Simon’s new name changed him and his role in the mission of Jesus forever.
Imagine Jesus stepping into this sanctuary. He calls you by the name, the name we all know you by but says, “XXX You are no longer XXX but you are ???” For example if it were my spouse Donna Jesus might say “Donna, you are to be Madonna for you will be part of a new birth in the church.
What name might Jesus bestow upon you?
There is one surname by which we all go and that is “Christian.”
In this regard my name is not Neil Wilson but “Neil the Christian.” As I thought about this, some questions came to mind in light of Jesus’ renaming Simon to Petros “rock” and what this said about Simon and what it might have meant to the new Peter.
Is my reputation such that when my name is mentioned there is a positive reflection on the church of Jesus Christ?
How well am I doing at projecting the reputation of Jesus into the world?
Or, if I’m honest, there have been times when I’ve been embarrassed by my association with Jesus. Am I more like Judas, than like my favorite Andrew?
Just how much am I responsible by my inaction and neglect, my self-absorbed actions and selfish ways of living, for the poor reputation of the Church and her Christ in these times?
Have I evaded my responsibilities and in effect lived in denial of the faith I claimed? The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans (10:9) that we are to profess Jesus with our lips. True. But unless you are living in times of persecution it is easy to say I believe in Jesus, it is quite another to live that proclamation out in real life! But then Matthew (15:8) tells us that Jesus said, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
What about you?
Are we living with the responsibilities bestowed up on us as people who confess Jesus as the Christ, Messiah?
Or have we trimmed and tidied the faith to suit us?
Can the world see a bit of Jesus in us?
A class of children was being taken through a church one day. The things they saw were patiently explained by their teacher, the pulpit, the altar, baptismal font, etc.. Then one little girl pointed to one of the stained glass windows. ‘Who are those people?’ she asked. The teacher explained that they were saints, which precipitated a discussion about how those people became saints.
After the tour, the teacher asked some questions to see what the children had learned. One of the questions was ‘Who are saints?’ The same little girl put up her hand and said, ‘Saints are the people the light shines through’.
What better answer would there be to describe those whose faith in action casts the light of Christ upon the needs of a suffering world?
By virtue of showing up here this morning, the name Christian will be attached to us not only by Jesus but also by the world.
What’s in a name? Perhaps a whole lot more that we might think!
Listen to our Audio Version by clicking on “Download File” below and enjoy Pastor Neil Wilson’s timely message.