Thursday, January 3, 2013

(Optional) Memorial of the Most Holy Name of Jesus

(Phil 2:1-11; Luke 2:21-24)

“What’s in a name?” an infatuated Juliet asks the handsome Romeo. At first, the two mistakenly believe very little substance resides in a name. But they come to learn there is really much at stake. For their love to mature they must accept who they are and make necessary sacrifices to overcome the difficulties their identities create.

We reserve much import for the name “Jesus.” Dogs may be named almost any regular name but never “Jesus.” But we should not think that other men are never called in this way. In fact, it is a common name in Hispanic cultures and was a popular name for men in biblical times. “Jesus” means “Yahweh saves.” Certainly, it is an apt name for the Christ who as God’s agent saves us humans from sin. He does this basically in two ways: by imparting wisdom through his teachings and by bestowing grace through his death and resurrection. Because of Jesus humans can live in freedom and look forward to heaven.

But providing the literal meaning of a name hardly tells enough about it. It certainly does not reveal why the name “Jesus” is “most holy” as we proclaim on this feast day. For this we must look deeper. Perhaps a telling use of the name late in Luke’s gospel will satisfy our need to know more about the name “Jesus.” Only one person in the four gospels dares to call Jesus by his name alone, without any titles or formalities. This person is not his mother or one of his disciples. It is the so-called good thief. On the cross he calls out to the Lord, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). The direct appeal, of course, brings the thief no reprimand. Quite the contrary, Jesus seems to award his boldness. “This day,” the Lord tells the criminal, “you will be with me in Paradise.”

The name “Jesus” is most holy because when we call it out in faith, God listens. We can be dying sinners, but as long as we repentantly ask Jesus’ mercy, we can depend upon it. To be sure, it is not a magic formula. But it is the last, best hope of a contrite heart.