Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Homily: The Holy Name of Jesus: Take two

The Holy Name of Jesus: 2013

At the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus

Prime and proper Anglo-Saxon folks are shocked by the fact that in Spanish-speaking cultures the name ‘Jesus’ is not at all an uncommon personal name. It hardly seems right, rather presumptuous, maybe even blasphemy, to give to any old Tom, Dick and Harry ‘the Name which is above every other name’ -- ‘the Name at which every knee shall bow.’ But we forget that when the Son of Mary was given the name ‘Jesus’ it was a perfectly ordinary name to give a Jewish child.

Archaeologists have unearthed the tombs of 71 men named Jesus  from the period of Jesus' death. The name also appears 30 times in the Old Testament. The name ‘Jesus’ is derived from the Greek version of the Hebrew name ‘Joshua.’ You might even say that this name was perfectly predictable, given that Joshua was a national hero of the Jews. Joshua had taken the reins after the death of Moses and led God’s people into the promised land.

When it came to the Name of God, it was a different matter for the Jews. Jacob tried to wrestle God’s name out him and got a dislocated hip out of it. Moses was more successful but he had to take his shoes off and stand of hallowed ground to hear God say that his Name was “Yahweh”—that mysterious Name “He Who Is”.  This Name was so holy that it could not even be spoken out loud but the Name ‘Adonai’ ‘the Lord’ had to be substituted for it.

In early Church the Name of Jesus was a name of power and might. “The name above all other names” “the Name at which every knee must bow”. It was the Name which saves; “the only Name given by which men must be saved’ St. Peter preached: the Name which cast out demons, which heals. Above all the Name of Jesus is the Name of the Lord. It is rare outside of the Gospels that the Name of Jesus stands alone: it Jesus Christ, Jesus the Lord, etc.

But in the Middle Ages, the 13th and 14th something new happened.  The thing that preachers like St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Bernadine of Sienna proclaimed about the Holy Name was its intimacy. It was the age which produced a renewed sense of the humanity of Jesus, the same age which produced St. Francis of Assisi and his Christmas manger. An age not of Platonic idealism but of Aristotelian realism. Jesus was not so much the terrible judge who ruled from the tympanum of the Romanesque Cathedrals but a baby, a crucified man, a man whose name we know just as we know the names of all our friends.

This too is part of the mystery of the Incarnation: “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing, I have called you friends.” To be sure Jesus is not just our pal but to call him by his Name, to invoke Him in our prayers, to visit him in the Blessed Sacrament, to simply say His Name is to know that he is for us men and for our salvation. A New Years Resolution: to turn to Jesus, to speak to him as a friend, to be with him and come what may in the this year to know that he is with us.

At the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus

No comments: