From the Pastor – January 18, 2015

John was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” (Jn. 1:35-36)

In the readings this weekend, we have a lot of “naming” going on.   John calls Jesus the “Lamb of God”: John’s disciples call Jesus “Rabbi”: Andrew refers to Jesus as the “Messiah (the Christ)” when he speaks to his brother, Simon; and Jesus calls Simon “Cephas (Peter).”  It almost sounds like pledge week at a fraternity house where everyone gets a new nickname! But what we’re dealing with has both theological and practical implications.  In the Bible – and in real life – names are important.

In William Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, the lovers have a dialogue about their own names. It begins with Romeo hearing Juliet call his name: “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?” The dialogue has been paraphrased to something like: “there’s nothing so sweet as the sound of one’s own name.” And even if we don’t read Shakespeare or understand poetry, we can relate to that. We like hearing our own name, and names are important.

In today’s readings, we’re given two names for Jesus: “Lamb of God” and “Messiah.” These are two words with very different understandings for the Jewish people. The word “Messiah” (“Christ” in Greek) meant a king (anointed one) who will come to rule in Israel and bring about a time of peace, deliverance and wisdom. On the other hand, “Lamb of God” points backward to the lambs that were slain at the time of Exodus in order that the Jewish people might be “passed over” when God struck down the first-born of the Egyptians. This action was ritually continued in the temple sacrifice of lambs each morning and evening.

So which is it? A king or a sacrificial lamb? Well, it’s both. Because Jesus, the Lamb of God, was slain on a cross upon which it was written “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Jesus was victim as well as priest, prophet and king.

Most of us are called a variety of names by family, friends and colleagues. And those names convey a lot of different meanings: some humorous, some intimate and some serious. Each of those names reflects who we are or what we do.  But we should also remember that there is one name that directly connects us to Jesus. It’s the name we get when we are baptized.  It’s the name we share with Jesus.   The name was first used in Acts 11:26 at Antioch, when the followers of Jesus were called, for the first time: “Christians.”  It’s a name we should be proud of, and it’s a name that should govern our lives, even into eternity. Jesus didn’t come to establish an earthly kingdom of peace, deliverance and wisdom. He came to create a new reality – a renewed communion between God and mankind. He did it in his person, and He did it as a victim. The word “Christian” is a hard name to live up to. Through the grace of God we try.

(Rev. Msgr.) Christopher H. Nalty