What’s in a name?

In April, Christians will be celebrating Easter, a day marked by hope, surprise, astonishment and joy.

There is a poignant moment early on the first Paschal morning. Mary stands beside the empty grave crying, trying to make sense of it all. Jesus appears to her, but she doesn’t know it is him. He asks why she is crying; she says she can’t find her friend.

Then Jesus spoke her name, “Mary,” and suddenly she knew. Her friend, the one so recently dead, was standing in front of her, very much alive. All it took was hearing her name, spoken on his lips.

There is power in a name. Speaking a name acknowledges the worth and dignity of every human being. Christians read in the story of creation that humans carry the image of God in our frail frames. There is goodness in men and women, young and old; we are beautiful creatures, each worthy of respect and honor.

When I lived in California, people would ask me what I thought about “the illegals.” Or they would ask what I thought “about the Mexicans.” It was hard to know how to answer that question, because I didn’t have a lot of thoughts about “those people.”

I could, however, tell you about Vincent, who worked backbreaking jobs for endless hours, just to provide basic necessities for his wife and child. Or Antonio, who found hope after a life marked by violence and drugs, and was desperately trying to take that same message of hope and redemption to others lost in the same deadly cycle. Or Monica, a lonely young mother who had a voice like the angels that would bring tears to the eyes of all who heard her sing.

These days, I’m often asked what I think about “the gays.” Again, I can’t really say. But I could tell you about my friend Kurt, a man who grew up in a Christian home, who struggles daily to balance who he feels he is with the expectations of his family to be somebody else. Or Anna, a young woman who walked the typical path of self-loathing, repeated suicide attempts and rejection by those closest to her. Refusing to give up, however, she is now a powerful advocate for people who don’t have voices in our society.

There are countless other ways we do this, using labels and stereotypes to dehumanize others, rather than looking at them as real people with real stories, hopes and dreams and even their own names. We call people by their ethnicity, their religion, their political persuasion, their gender, dismissively referring to them with labels that are at best incomplete, and at worst, completely biased.

Which is why I like the way Jesus called Mary by name. He didn’t see a Jewish woman with a sordid history; he simply saw Mary, his friend, and he spoke her name. A connection was made that brought healing and hope and love and restoration, all because he spoke her name.

Dan Whitmarsh is pastor at Lakebay Community Church. You can contact him at dan@nulllakebaycovenant.net
Writing by Faith
Writing by Faith