Jesus Christ—What’s in a Name?

Who is Jesus and why does that matter? I both know and don’t know. The name Jesus Christ stirs all kinds of feelings and responses. Sometimes I hear people saying Jesus Christ, as if Christ were Jesus’ last name. Sometimes I hear people drawn to the name Jesus–the historical human being, the teacher. Sometimes, like early Friends, people express more openness to Christ, the cosmic and universal divine being. What can the name Jesus Christ tell us?

At a certain point Jesus asks his disciples who people say he is (Mark 8: 27; Matthew 16: 13). It seems as if it was common in those days for a person to be understood in relation to another person or quality. The people say Jesus is Elijah or John the Baptist, not because they are confusing him with them but because they are fitting Jesus into a story and understanding him in that context. Knowing him as the Messiah (or the Christ, the Greek word for the same concept)—the anointed one, the one who makes all things new—is catching the big picture.   The disciples begin to see what others who didn’t see that picture couldn’t see. To know Jesus as the Christ can do that for us too.

Jesus Christ also conveys the truth that the only Jesus we have is the one remembered, talked about, and understood after the fact of his death and the experience of his resurrection. When we look back and tell stories from the past they are always colored by the eyes we have in the present. It is a gift that we can see the connections and meaning in ways we couldn’t at the time. (For example, the Martin Luther King I know now is way more significant than the man I read about in the 1950’s.)

The name Jesus Christ affirms the paradox that this one is both human and divine, that God dwells with us on earth in human flesh, that the divine and human are forever one. It reminds us that we also are human and divine, even if the divine seems well hidden. It can encourage us to listen inwardly.

I am glad that we have this two-part name. It gives us room to make some kind of connection regardless of how we feel or what we know at any given time. And it also carries an invitation or challenge to know more.

Queries:

What do you know and how do you feel about Jesus Christ?

How do you become open to seeing things in new ways?

Prayer:

Imagine yourself with Jesus and hear him ask you, “Who do you say I am?” Allow yourself to be present, to listen and respond.

For further reflection:

“Wonderful Counselor . . . Prince of Peace . . .” (See Isaiah 9:6).

“You are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. . .” (See Matthew 1:18-25). Note: The Hebrew and Aramaic forms of Jesus and he will save are similar.

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