May 31, 2017: Jesus, The Name of God

~by Louis Templeman


Is it a scandal that the biblical God should bear a name? To the father of Samson, who asked for his name, the angel of the Lord said, “Why should you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?” The name of God is wonderful. Moses received the name of God at the burning bush and in no time at all Israel began her first steps to nationhood. The deities of Moses’ era were all fixed to places: a god of the mountains, the valley, or some river. Moses’ God was not such a god. He was the God of People. He dwelt in families, in hearts.

When Israel went forth from Egypt . . . Judah became his sanctuary, Israel his dominion.” Psalm 114: 1,2.

He was not bound geographically, but was available wherever his people were. So, God soon became seen as one who had relationships with his people. Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) wrote, “the mere fact that God bears a name and thereby appears as an individual is a scandal . . . (but) is it (Yahweh), properly speaking really a name? . . . This really looks like a rebuff; it seems more like a refusal to give a name than the announcement of a name.”

Moses and the Israelites were aware that all the local gods were named. If Moses were to return to Egypt in divine power and purpose he certainly needed to go in God’s name. Israel, at this time, had no culturally distinctive religious practice. They had no priesthood, no laws and no writings, as yet. In all likelihood, they entertained many false gods and idols. So, Moses needed to be specific when he announced his divine appointment to the elders of Israel.

The name Yahweh is built on the little verb “am”. It cancels out the significance of the name being a name. The name brings on a paradox. If God became familiar, by now having a name, then by the mystery of that strange name, I-am-who-I-am, he certainly remained unfamiliar. If “I am” was to be the revelation of God, it was at the same time a concealment of God’s person in mystery. If a name is a sign of acquaintance, then at this instance it also became a cipher for the perpetually unknown and unnamed quality of God.

The divine name, Yahweh/I-am, is God’s revelation of his presence. As if to say, “I am here”, or, “I am here for you.” It is a handle on his being and an indication of what he is being for. He is for his people. God is love.

All flesh is grass and its beauty like the flowers of the field . . . but the word of our God stands forever. Isaiah 40: 6-8.

God, the eternal and ultimate significance, reached out in love to the tragically insignificant. Yet, as brief, and insignificant as we are, God is saying in the revelation of his name (I-am-who-I-am) that he is here for us. He gives us firmness in our infirmity. God is a mystery, yet he uses personal pronouns. And, he does not reveal himself to us apart from us. He is not a God of the mountain or the valley. But, the God of human hearts.

For the Lord’s portion is his people. Deuteronomy 32: 9.

The apostle John makes the “I am” the central formula of his faith in God. And, it also becomes the central formula for his presentation of Jesus the Messiah. And, so Christ takes on the identity of Moses’ Yahweh. In chapter 17 the apostle John shows Jesus to be the revealer of the name of God. He becomes the New Testament equivalent of the burning bush: “I have made known to them your name. And I will make it known, that the love which you have loved me may be in that and I in them” (John 17: 26).

Here, Christ is the burning bush. He reveals God’s name without vocalizing it. The name cannot be reduced to syllables. Here it becomes clear that Christ himself is the name. He is what cannot be vocalized, the invocability of God. The name of God is not a word but a person. It is Jesus himself. The name of God reveals God’s relationship with humanity. He loves us. God is love. Jesus indicated that God so loved the world that he gave himself up.

My friend Ron, tells a simple story of an incident of mystery that happened to him while he was in prison. Father Tom and his wife Pixieanne stopped Ron and held both of his hands. Tears filled her eyes as she said, “I hear we are going to lose you soon.” Ron affirmed that his transfer was probably imminent. Then, with a depth of passion that rocked Ron, she said, “Well, you remember we love you.” Ron has never tired of telling that story. Pixieanne’s simple words carried a beauty, grace, and truth he’d never felt before. It was as if God, through this sister in Christ, came face to face with him and revealed his name – “I am” for you, “I am” with you. The presence of God assured him of the eternal truth of God’s love.

This is the reality of the name of God. It is not a word or an arrangement of syllables. It is God handing himself over to us. And, by doing this, entering a co-existence with us. He puts himself within our reach. He is there for us.

Jesus Christ himself, became all that was ever meant or intended by the idea of the name of God. In Christ, the name of God became not a word but flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone, our very breath. God has become one of us. God has become our fellow man. It is a fulfillment of the messianic name Isaiah used, Immanuel, which means, God with us.

It is what Jesus meant when he said, Lo “I am” with you always . . ..

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Louis writes from Jacksonville, Florida where he lives with his old friend and wonderful bride, Joy. They transformed their friendship into the sacrament of marriage on August 30, 2012. They share their home with two self-absorbed, playful, twin cats (Flo and Jet) and one very allusive and arrogant cat named D. Louis has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and is fighting the good fight. Much of what he writes these days he is sharing his journey with us. Please keep Louis and his wife Joy in your prayers.

CLICK HERE to visit Louis’ Catholic Journeyman Archive

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