A Name To Never Be Named

Things were different, you couldn’t really name it, but there was a change in the overall atmosphere, it was indescribable. For starters, they were going in a different direction, a very intentional direction. You only had to look were the sun was in the morning to recognize that they were heading south. Jerusalem was south, the paranoid politicians were in the Jerusalem, the south, the power of the religious leaders was in Jerusalem, in the south.  It wasn’t a good direction to be heading.

None of the of disciples had said anything, even though they knew that Jesus was purposely going to Jerusalem.   Still, no one said anything to Jesus, and there was no need to say anything to each other.  They were all thinking the same thing, ‘don’t go to Jerusalem, don’t go to Jerusalem’ – everyday, at the break of dawn they would, once again, find themself heading south, towards Jerusalem.

A lot had happened in a very brief amount of time, it was unusual, and it was the same. Jesus was acting the same towards the crowds, he still had an overriding passion – healing the sick, curing disease, and you couldn’t not see his continual focus on how oppressed they were.  There was always a crowd, and Jesus was always healing and curing, and all of the disciples were beginning to feel the weight of this oppression as everything seemed to be resting on how they were being abused by the politicians and the religious leader.  

The crowd of 5-10 thousand at Bethsaida, up north near the Sea of Galilee, had also been physically hungry, stomach growling hungry.  The disciples were the first to verbally address the hunger, suggesting that it was time they send the people home.  It really wasn’t a heartless plan, this enormous crowd had all been there all day, the line of people needing Jesus’ healing touch seemed to growing rather than shrinking, and, what was most concerning was that Jesus was visibly fatigued, he needed some rest.  Jesus didn’t even entertain the idea of sending the people home, there were too many of them, too many that were sick, and, all of them were suffering, too many that were dying under the oppression.

Oppression.  The political leaders needed to keep the people in line and quiet, in order to could keep their positions of power.  The religious leaders needed to keep the people in line and quiet, to keep the local political leaders happy. The political and religious leaders hated each other, but now, they were pretty chummy, it was a tense yet helpful relationship for both sides.  If the religious leaders kept the people in line, the political leaders were more much more cooperative.  Politicians set up a temple tax which primarily went into the pockets of the religious leaders. The religious leaders knew the arrangement was expedient to their agenda, and that it permitted the religious institution to have an influence in the appointment of powerful persons.  It was a win for everyone, except for the average Hebrew, the Jews.  They had to periodically go to the temple to make their offerings and sacrifices.  This was expensive, they had the travel, the lodging, the food, they had to take off work, once they got to the temple they had to pay the temple tax, then, they had to pay for the sacrificial animal. The people were oppressed, and their faith leaders, and institution, were responsible for the suffering.

There was a lot of hurting, and Jesus, was incapable of not noticing and addressing hurting, pain, and oppression. The hunger of the people had not escaped Jesus notice, his response to the disciples suggestion of sending the people home was to say, ‘you feed them.’  All twelve of the men were dumbfounded at this demand, 

‘With what?’ They asked with a hint of indignation.

Jesus didn’t seem offended by the tone of their questions, he didn’t even really seem to notice the blatant sarcasm, he just asked, ‘What do we have?’

‘We, what do WE, have….’ They were all thinking, however, again, no one said it, ‘WE don’t have anything, WE didn’t bring anything!’

Instead of speaking, all the men just stared expressionless, sometimes no expression communicates more than any form of expression. Eventually, Jesus said, ‘Are you sure that we don’t have anything to feed them?’  

It was Andrew who finally spoke up about a boy who had offered his five loaves and two fish his mom had packed for him. It was a sweet offer on part of the little boy, it would be a  touching sentimental story to tell folks back home, but really , five loaves and two fish for this crowd?  That was probably not even enough to keep the little boy going for the rest of the day.  

It was one of those moments when you expected Jesus to say, ‘That’s nice, now, seriously, what else do we have?’

But Jesus didn’t said that, he didn’t dismiss the sacrifice of the little boy, he didn’t even hint that Andrew was wasting everyone’s time. Jesus thanked the boy, took the food, and sure enough, he fed the crowd.  But, even after their stomachs were full, they the crowd stuck around, it was getting late.  The people still needed Jesus to heal them and they needed his peace to survive the  oppression they lived under. So, that was then Jesus sent the disciples ahead while he stayed with the crowds until all went home.

That was typical Jesus.  Everyone mattered, everyone had a name, everyone deserved health, freedom, respect, – everyone deserved to be known by their name. Jesus knew all their name, he knew every person because every person deserved to be known.

Later, Jesus asked the disciples what names the people were giving to him, his disciples were quick to answer, ‘John the Baptizer’, ‘Elijah’, ‘Jeremiah’, were all offered as answers.  Jesus listened to these and all the other names the they had heard.  With every answer Jesus would nod, a signal that he had heard the answer, he didn’t seem disturbed or bothered by any of the answers, afterall, it hadn’t been very long since the religious leader had called him ‘Satan’.  Once you are given that name, no name is going to be more offensive.  Jesus looked down at the ground, he was thinking, it was obvious that this discussion was not over.  After a short time of silence, he rose his head up again, he had a look of love and embrace on his face and in his posture, which was now accompanied by a something much deeper yet unhurried, there seemed to be a new urgency in his tone.  Jesus looked around, locking eyes with each of the men, still communicating love and respect, then after connecting with all twelve men, then he looked back down at the ground.

‘Who do YOU say that I am?’ He asked as his head moved up to the point where, once again, he was looking each of the men in the eye. The question was met with silence.  This was a dangerous question to answer, it was dangerous for the disciples, and all answers would be dangerous for Jesus. There were always curious ears; there were always profiteering eavesdroppers.  Some of those present were not sure that they thought, some would still be doubters and unsure all the way to the ascension.  Many had a good idea of what they believed, they were hesitant to put it into words however.  Everyone knew certain words, words like ‘God’ and ‘Messiah’ would be the final straw for the religious leaders – A rabbi convincing his disciples that he was the Messiah, or worse, that he was God would be an undeniable call to action, very bad actions.

So, the awkward silence persisted, Jesus continued to look at them.  His look didn’t seem to be condescending, but, instead, concerned. His expression completely changed when Peter couldn’t keep quiet any long, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’  This seemed to be a huge relief to Jesus, his expression changed from concern to hope.  Peter, standing on this truth of understanding of who Jesus is, that he was going to be able to grab hold of the faith God gave to him, was the affirmation that Jesus needed..

Jesus even changed Peter’s name to ‘Rock’.

This made the next name Jesus gave to Peter all the more shocking. Jesus called Peter ‘Satan’.  Peter had finally spoken out, saying to Jesus what everyone had been thinking. 

‘You can’t go to Jerusalem, we have to turn back towards Galillee! You can’t let this death happen to you!’ This all came after Jesus had told the men about his death and resurrection.

Peter was now called ‘Satan’ by Jesus.  The name you never want to be called, the most horrid name that Peter could ever hear.  ‘Satan.’

Peter didn’t want Jesus to die, none of the men did – however, they would understand later, Jesus had to die – in order to be resurrected, he had to first die.

Peter despised this ‘dying’ plan, it was painful, for Peter , for the others, and especially for Jesus.  Peter may have been sincere, he may have thought he had pure motive, but, he was trying to get Jesus to step onto a different path.

Early on, when Satan tried to finish Jesus off early but was met with failure, he had vowed to return to Jesus, he had promised to show up at another ‘opportune’ time to tempt Jesus again, an ‘opportune’ time had arrived.  This time, however, he used Peter.  Peter, with good intentions, was trying to protect his friend Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God.  Now, even the best intentions were not enough to keep Peter’s name from being changed to ‘Satan.’

Names are wonderful and names can be a nightmare.  Just ask Peter. Just ask Moses. 

1,500  years earlier, another man dealt with a troublesome name, this man was Moses.  Mosheh, in the hebrew, or Moishe, in yiddish, or Moses (or Mes) to the  Egyptians.  The Etymology of these three forms of the same name are still a struggle for linguists today. For the man named Moses, during the time of the Hebrew slavery in Egypt, it was a unavoidable metaphor for the personal struggle of his own life.  A struggle he was never able to escape.  Moses, a Hebrew child who was placed in a basket into the Nile River, by his mother and sister in order to save him from the edict of the brutal Pharoah to kill the Hebrew children in the Nile river, was rescued by the daughter of Pharoah, and then raised in the Pharoah’s palace as an Egyptian male, a family member in the family of Pharoah, raised as a man of great privilege and authority.   

Here is the problem with this name Moses carried.  Pharoah’s daughter, Bithiah, basically created the name Moses, by putting two word roots together, the first was ‘son of…’ and the second part was ‘I drew  out of the water.’ Basically, she intended the name to say, ‘this is my son, and, I drew him out of the water,’ However, she made a grammar error, basically in spelling and the ‘I drew him out of water’ basically became ‘he will draw them out.’  The Hebrew, or Yiddish understanding of the name is similar, a one word explanation is our word ‘deliver’, with the added meaning of the word ‘water’.  The meaning of the name was also, in Hebrew traditions, ‘those who are saved.’ 

This Hebrew and Egyptian name etymology tells the story of the battle that went on in Moses himself.  He was considered a son of an Egyptian, living in the home of the very ruler that wanted him to be put to death as a child, and, was rejected by his own people, the Hebrews. Add to this, his attempt to deliver another Hebrew, further alienated him from the Egyptians and the Hebrews. He was a slave and a master, an oppressed person as well as an oppressor, a protector and a murderer, he was a man on the outside of everything, a man now accepted by no one, a man who no longer belonged, a man who could no longer go home, a man  who was known but who’s greatest desire was to not be known. He was a man on the run.

Soon, he found out that not only was he known, but, that he was know by God, who knew his name.

‘Moses, Moses.’ God called out, ‘Take your shoes off, you are on holy ground.’ 

God then introduced himself to Moses.  It seems ironic that an iconic religious deliverer like Moses had to be introduced to God, but he did.  As the discussion continues, we realize that even the Hebrews needed an introduction to God.  It has been four hundred years since Joseph, 400 years since the talk of, and dependence on, the God of Joseph.  This God, the God of Joesph, the God of Jacob, the God of Isaac, the God of Abraham, the God of Moses, the God of the Hebrews, the God who knew Moses name, the God who knew each of the names of the Hebrews, the God who had not forgotten them.  The God who had heard their cries, cries sent out into the unknown and to the unknown – God was now sending a deliverer.  That God was sending a deliverer who’s name was  Moses.

‘They are going to ask who your are,’ a surprised, hesitant, and fearful, Moses said, ‘What is your name, how do I identify you to them?’

‘I am God,’ God responded in the same way any one responds when their title is their name, s name that is truly, and only, owned by no other being, ‘tell them my name is ‘I AM’.

So, God, was sending Moses to the place he never wanted to return to, in the same manner, God was sending Jesus to the very place that his disciples knew he should never, ever, go near.  Both men were given the same mission, a mission to deliver the oppressed.  

The oppressed, it is a very strange word.  If you have not ever been truly oppressed, which is probably true for everyone hearing this message, then you cannot identify, you can not sympathize, and you definitely are incapable of empathizing – seldom do even even acknowledge a need to understand the impact of oppression on another.  For the Hebrews who were now slaves in Egypt, the path to becoming oppressed had been so gradual that they didn’t even recognize it until it was too late, until they could do nothing except send a cry out into the universe.  

For the Jews that held the attention and compassion of Christ, oppression had come at the hands of their rulers in cooperation with their religious leaders, the authorities had paved the road to this state of their lives, the people had accepted this because they had blindly trusted, and accepted, the lies of their leaders.

Oppressors are good, they know how to manipulate and divide, they know how to make those they are going to oppress nameless, they call them liberals, radicals, thugs, rapists, drug dealers, murderers, killers, worthless, anything that is quickly interpreted as ‘bad’ even though the intentional meaning is never questioned, and their attacks are seldom critiqued.  Oppressors that are good have eliminating those that will questions their lies, it is all part of a well oiled campaign to subtly accelerate the oppressive process.

The one most effective way to counter oppression is to know the names of those being attacked and oppressed.  The Egyptians did not know the Hebrews names, they accepted the labels expressed by Pharoah, the Politicians did not know Jesus, they accepted the labels of the religious leaders.  Fear mongering, lies, conspiracies, slander, are all proven techniques of effective oppressors.  Keeping people from knowing each other’s name is usually the most effective path.

This was the final straw that pushed the Chinese Communist party leaders to take forceful action in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.  They were fine waiting the student protestors out, however, when all the other groups began to enter the square, groups the leaders had worked diligently to keep divided though the use lies and hateful labels. As these previously divided groups of people began to interact, as they began to know each other’s name, as they began to reject the hateful labels they had received from their leaders, the party officials realized their power was threatened. They took action.

When Peter was given the name ‘Satan’ a truth about himself was revealed, he realized that he was putting himself above all else, he recognized how he was allowing the true Satan to use him at an opportune moment.  This horrible name opened his eyes.

A name, tells us a lot about ourselves and tells us a truth about others. 

Ever since they constructed the new road connecting West Lindsey and 36th Avenue, I have seen, almost daily, large damaged areas of the fence.  Sometimes it was obvious that a car had done the damage but most of the time I struggled to understand.  One day I walking the path and I witnessed a man taking the slats out of the fence. I recognized the man, I realized I knew his name, this was ‘Ray’. I knew Ray, I knew his name, I had met Ray while I volunteered at Food and Shelter.  Ray was one of the many clients we served that lived at the river. Ray and I had many discussions, during which he freely shared that he had been given, and chosen, the names ‘unhoused’, ‘homeless’, ‘unemployed’, ‘unemployable’, and sometimes the name ‘bum’  because he ‘didn’t follow rules very well, or at all’, and that, sometimes he had a ‘temper’ which was why every six months he would be fired from the University’s landscaping crews.  As I approached Ray, he immediately recognized me, he even knew my name. 

‘Rick! Can you give me a hand with this?’ He shouted.

He needed my help taking the fence apart.  I had always thought of these ‘fence destroyers’ in less than pleasant terms, now I was one of them.  As I joined Ray in the legions of being a ‘Felon’, which is what I assumed would be the name posted in the Norman Transcript below my mug shot, I asked him why we were destroying the fence.  

Ray explained that, although he considered most of the folks at the river, to be friends, he still didn’t trust them.  ‘No one trusts each other down here,’ he explained.  ‘So, everyday we have to take all of our important stuff with us on our bikes.’ All this important stuff made it impossible to get the bikes through, or over, the fence, so they had to disassemble it to get to their day.

‘I’ve wondered why it is always like this,’ I said.  

‘Yes, it is us,’ he shrugged.

The the eyesore of a fence was now, to me, a sign that a people, a people with names not just labels, had not been considered when the fence was originally placed designed.  Whereas, before I assumed the worst about the broken fence.  I would regularly see the city workers fixing the fence, I would imagine the hateful things they had to be saying about the fence destoryers.  Now, I knew, it was Ray. Now I didn’t hate, it was Ray. Actually, now it was Ray and me.

A couple of months ago, as I was driving by, I saw a city  vehicle with a city worker standing and looking at the fence.  He was walking along the fence and you could tell he was studying the fence.  As I returned, I saw this same man on the other side of the fence, walking down into the woods toward the river.

The next time I drove by, a city crew out working on the fence yet again.  This time was different, this time, instead of just reconstructing the fence, they were building an opening.  Now, I seldom see Ray, or his community breaking the fence, now, for the most part, they are going to the opening.  I think the man I saw earlier, the city worker studying the fence, eventually went down to the river to learn the names of the people previously known only by the level of ‘fence destroyer,’ he find the most used path, and the best place for an opening. 

I think this city worker met Ray, who introduced him to the others, including one lady who had the name JoAnn. JoAnn always, somehow, had an extra pound of ground beef or an array of chicken parts, which, on most good days, she would share with all the others who also had names. Now, these people ceased to be known by hostile labels and now had names.  Now, that they had names, is was much easier to address their need, now, they were a little less oppressed.

Jesus was insistent that his disciples understood the oppression that the Jews were living under.  Jesus sent his disciples out to these oppressed people because that was the calling that the Father gave Jesus, ‘a calling to give them a full life,’  Jesus sent them out so that they could know their names. 

Knowing names is what always brings us to accept God’s call, it always leads us trust the God who calls.

God said to Moses, ’I know you by name.’ God said to the Hebrews, through Moses, ‘I know you by name,’ God says to us ‘I know you by name.’

What names do you know”

Let’s pray.

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