In the readings this weekend, we have some “naming” going on. John calls Jesus the “Lamb of God” and the “Son of God.” 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 Gospel, Jesus is first called the “Lamb of God.” This title points 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.
But then later in the same passage, John calls Jesus the “Son of God.” While this title would have commonlyh meant a “friend” of God, the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us: “The Gospels report that at two solemn moments, the Baptism and the Transfiguration of Christ, the voice of the Father designates Jesus his “beloved Son.” Jesus calls himself the “only Son of God,” and by this title affirms his eternal pre-existence. He asks for faith in “the name of the only Son of God.” In the centurion’s exclamation before the crucified Christ, “Truly this man was the Son of God,” that Christian confession is already heard. Only in the Paschal mystery can the believer give the title “Son of God” its full meaning. (CCC 444). So we only understand the fill meaning of “Son of God” by understanding the “Lamb of God.”
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