In the Lectionary

May 21, Easter 7A (John 17:1-11)

It must have astonished those gathered with Jesus to hear that they were beloved.

I don’t know the extent of our cat Snitch’s vocabulary, but the first word to which she responded after we adopted her was her name. Many animals—including we humans—learn to respond first to names. When a friend of mine started school, the teacher called his mother reporting that her son had been absent the first day. Confused, since she had driven him to school that morning and walked him to his classroom, his mother asked him about it. “I was there,” he said, “but the teacher never called my name.” A second conversation with the teacher revealed that the teacher had called out “Robert Herrmann”; he hadn’t responded because his family and friends had always called him Bobby.

Most folks I know are a bit particular about their name: how it’s spelled and pronounced, whether it’s a nickname or formal, how it’s used and by whom. Identity is a large part of it, of course, and reputation—weighty matters, both of them. Names are permission slips: they invite engagement or even relationship. Being named is important. Naming is impor­tant. When people know our names and use them correctly, we can believe that we’re part of something—a community, a movement, a relationship.

The Bible takes this naming business seriously. According to its first book, God is the namer par excellence, who continues naming and renaming as salvation history rolls along, up to and including the New Testament period. For instance, God instructs parents-to-be several times on the names of their children. Biblical names often carry meanings that are quite pertinent to the individual so designated: Jesus, of course, the root of whose name signals salvation, or Isaac, recalling the famous laughter of his parents. David means “beloved” or, perhaps more to the point, “lover,” while both Hannah and Anna mean “gracious.”