What’s In A Name?

In Christianity on June 30, 2020 at 4:30 pm

What’s in a name?

Sometimes a name is all we know about biblical characters. They speak just a few words or are only known by their mention in Sacred Scripture.

By some estimates at least 2,000 names are recorded in the Bible, many mentioned only once. Elishama is a good example.

He is the scribe or court secretary in Jeremiah 36:12. He likely would be remembered for no more than that, except in the 1970s, a bulla was discovered in an antiquities shop with the inscription, “Elishama, servant of the king.”

A bulla is a small lump of clay impressed with the seal of an official (source of the contemporary term, “Papal bull”). The original location of Elishama’s bulla and the others found with it suggest this seal was indeed the “signature” used to authenticate documents that declared the king’s intent.

A far more important figure who does not speak is Melchizedek. See Genesis 14:18, where he appears unexpectedly to bless Abram and is called “a priest of the God most high.”

His importance, however, extends far beyond this encounter with Abram because Melchizedek is an Old Testament “type” or pointer to Jesus Christ:

This we have as an anchor of the soul, sure and firm which reaches into the interior behind the veil, where Jesus has entered on our behalf as forerunner, becoming high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.Hebrews 6:19-20

Yet Melchizedek in the Bible is silent.

The most important silent figure in Scripture is St. Joseph, foster father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. He doesn’t speak a word, yet there is much to be learned from his silence — for Joseph’s Word is Jesus.¹

Jesus learned from St. Joseph … obedience to God. …People who knew Joseph, when they saw the Lord, somehow saw St. Joseph in the ways of Christ.  His way of speaking, his gestures, his customs, his tenacity at work, were a reflection of what he had seen and learned from Joseph. “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” (see Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3)

We cannot allow ourselves to read scripture so casually that Joseph becomes impersonal and sterile. He is not simply a bit player who takes Mary into his home, flees to Egypt with Jesus and Mary when warned, and returns home when an angel tells him of Herod’s death.

Joseph always did what the Lord asked him to do. This is deeply admirable — a person who humbly, simply, silently, follows God even into the unknown. Silent obedience that stems from trust; trust that is born of faith; faith that bears fruit in love.

The Blessed Virgin Mary
Mary, while not entirely silent in Sacred Scripture, speaks only four times: Luke 1:26-38, Luke 1:46-56, Luke 2:41-52, and in John 2:1-11. Yet her name must be mentioned here because many Christian denominations see Mary almost abstractly, an instrument in the salvation drama; a means of Christ’s birth.

By redeeming Mary before her birth and keeping her from sin throughout her life, we could even say that Mary’s name is God’s seal, the “bulla” and signature of His intent to redeem the world from sin through her Son, Jesus Christ. As the woman in Revelation 12:1-6, clothed with the sun and giving birth to a male Child who will rule all nations, her name and her role are rightfully revered (though never worshipped, as some would assert).

What’s in a Name?
An Old Testament picture of Christ; a New Testament man of silence; a humble woman of few words — and Jesus Himself, for as God said to Joseph about Mary: “She will bear a son and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

Like Joseph and Mary, may we

… let ourselves be led by God, doing His Will with simplicity and without protest, with confidence and without questioning, knowing that the Lord has a plan.

And may we look to their Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, Whose Name is the only “name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” ²



¹ Here I gratefully draw on thoughts of Fr. Sergio Muñoz Fita of St. Anne Roman Catholic Parish, Gilbert, AZ. All indented quotations about St. Joseph are from an email to his parish dated June 25, 2020, “Fiat Voluntas Tua: Saint Joseph, the Righteous Man Who Always Did as the Lord Wanted.”

² Acts 4:12.

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