“His name is John.”
This is at the heart of this seemingly minor passage. Personally, I wanted to go back and meditate on the Magnificat, but this is the passage assigned to us for today.
Today’s passage is all about the power of names.
His name is “John,” and not Zacharias, after his father. Immediately, the question arises, “Who has the authority to give names?” The answer, ultimately, is “God does.” It’s interesting to note that Jewish boys weren’t named until the eighth day (which stands for the New Day of the New Creation, and is also the first day of the week, or the Lord’s Day). We are used to naming our children on the day they are born, but the early church, following Jewish custom transformed in the New Covenant, gave their children their Christian names or forenames when they were baptized in the Church. This, along with baptism, signified that the creation of new life belongs to God alone, and not to man.
Those who were going to circumcise John wanted to call him “Zacharias,” after his father. They were surprised when Elizabeth said his name was to be “John,” and they didn’t accept her name.
“His name is John.” Not “We have decided to call him John,” or “We want you to call him John,” or “Pretty please call him John with mounds of sugar on top of it!”
“His name is John,” because God had determined John’s name. And therefore, because God had named John “John,” Zacharias and Elizabeth had to name him John. Now Zacharias could have chosen some other name for John, it’s true. But he’d already had experience with bucking God, and it didn’t turn out too well for him. He could have said, “We want to name him Zacharias, Jr.”
But God had called him John. The fact that God had named him was representative of the fact that God had also chosen John for His special purposes. It was God, and not the natural strength of elderly Zacharias and elderly and barren Elizabeth, that enabled Elizabeth to conceive John. It was God who made John kick in his mother’s womb. And it was God who named John.
John was who he was because God had made him so. This is the meaning of John’s name, and it is the meaning of circumcision and baptism: God makes us what we are, and not we ourselves.
Names in the Bible are significant, because the power to give someone a name is the power to give them an identity and say who they are. This is why good old Neb renamed the Jews he deported. We know some of them as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, but these were the names Nebuchadnezzar gave them when he took them and wanted to make them Babylonians. Their given Jewish names were Azariah, Hananiah, and Mishael.When Jesus took Peter and made him His disciple, He gave him a new name. Actually, Simon was his original name, but we know him better as Peter (“Rocky”) because Jesus named him so.
John’s name itself is important. It means “God is merciful” or “the gift of the mercy of God.” Zacharias’ name means “God remembers his covenant” (which is ironic, in that Zacharias didn’t remember it very well himself at the beginning). Elizabeth means “God is the absolutely faithful One.” Of course, Jesus’ name means “God saves” or “the divine Savior.”
God has given you a name, too. Of course you have your Christian name or forename, but God has given you another very special name: “Christian.” You are called by the name of His own beloved Son, Jesus Christ: you are named as a disciple of Jesus Christ. At baptism, you were also signed with the name of the Holy Trinity, and so God’s name is upon you. God has therefore claimed you for His own and desires to bless you as His child. For if God has given you His name, then He has made you a member of His holy family.
You have a choice every day of whether or not to accept that holy and awesome name. Every time that you believe and obey God, you are accepting His naming and claiming of you. But every time you disbelieve and disobey, you are rejecting that name, or, to put it more dramatically, you are taking His name in vain. When Zacharias did not immediately believe, he was struck dumb. This is a picture of our lives when we don’t believe God or disobey Him. Ultimately, in the Final Judgment, if we will not use our mouths to thank and praise God, then our mouths will be stopped. If we will not use our ears to hear God speak, then we will become dumb. And if we will not use our bodies to worship God, then they will become subject to eternal decay. Even in this life, when we don’t believe God, the blessing of God is withheld from our lives, and we become blind, deaf, dumb, and lame.
But when Zacharias demonstrated his belief by his obedience, then God blessed him, and he was able to speak once again. By Zacharias we learn, therefore, not only the curse that comes upon us when we disbelieve and disobey God but also the blessing that comes upon us when we believe and obey.
Your name is “Christian,” for God has named you so. Now go and act like you believe this!
Prayer: Lord, I thank You for choosing me before the foundation of the world and claiming me as Your own. I thank You for giving me Your name and making me a part of Your family. Help me to honor Your name by believing You when You speak and obeying when You command. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
Meditate more upon the honor and responsibility involved in being named “Christian” by God.
Resolution: I resolve to consider one way in which I am not accepting God’s claim on my life, or one way in which I am not living up to the name “Christian.”
© 2015 Fr. Charles Erlandson