What’s in a Name?
We hear two different names in our Nativity stories, assigned to this newborn baby: Emmanuel, meaning God is with us, and Yeshua.
Yeshua is the name Mary and Joseph were told by the angel to name their firstborn. Yeshua, meaning the one who saves, that we translate as Jesus.
The One Who Saves: Salvation is at the heart of the meaning of the name of this One we proclaim and profess to follow. But there are all different means and ways of saving. And as the church, a gathering of followers, perhaps we should especially focus on how it is that Jesus saves. Not doctrinally or dogmatically, but experientially. How did Jesus save as Jesus lived, as Jesus loved? What does this saving actually look like in the flesh?
In the story of the woman at the well, the longest conversation Jesus has with anyone in Scripture, Jesus walks up to this unaccepted and cast-aside woman—joins her where she is, listens, accepts what she has to offer, and builds relationship. A relationship that leads to transformation for the woman and many others in her community.
In the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman, Jesus is required to humbly re-think what he has learned and allow for this woman to enlargen and enlighten his view, his own doctrinal wisdom.
In the story of the young girl who is believed to be dead, Jesus arrives, believing in—seeing— her life rather than her death. Jesus takes her hand and calls for her to rise up. Talitha cumi: rise up, young woman and live.
In the story of the Good Samaritan, we hear of a neighbor who gives of his own time, his treasure–who sets aside his schedule and agenda to meet a dire need of a stranger. Taking the wounded to a place of refuge and calling in others to help with the healing, providing what is needed because he can, and then vowing to return—not simply considering his work finished because he has done what he can in the moment; this is not a transaction, but the blossoming of a relationship—whether it be short or long. A relationship of healing, of presence, of laying down one’s life for another.
In the feeding of the thousands, when the disciples are overwhelmed by the task to feed so many hungry and ask Jesus where the food is going to come from, Jesus says: you feed them. And the process of each seeing what they have to create a commonwealth of food, drink, of sustenance begins. And together they discover not only do they have enough, they have more than enough, an abundance with baskets and baskets of more.
Beloved, it is Holy Name day. What does our Name—as followers of the way, really mean? As the church we are being called to reconsider how it is we see ourselves. Historically, as we have “served others,” we have seen ourselves as the Benefactor. The one who has the resources, the answers, the proper and correct ways of being that we then offer to the less fortunate. We are the blessed and we bestow God’s blessing by giving to the less blessed. Our way of living and giving allows us to see ourselves as the great Benefactors, often casting ourselves as white saviors. This is a hierarchical system that then requires the receiver to exist on a lower status, a less-blessed, less-privileged position.
Jesus lived and moved from a status of mutuality, of reciprocity. Knowing that each of us needs the other, that our wellness comes from interdependence, not hierarchical generosity. Jesus knew the hungry among the thousands had much to share. Beloved, I wonder what inspired them to loosen their grip so that what they had was no longer “mine” but “ours”? What will inspire us?
Systems of mutuality have a primary purpose to satisfy common needs instead of growing private and personal profit. Mutual societies are managed according to principles of solidarity and unity rather than creating pockets of privileged preferences and desires. Jesus lived by the code of: I will walk with you and together we will know the wellness and wholeness God desires and provides for us in this life that has both glory and misery, both suffering and sustenance. Jesus moved from the Mystery of love’s generosity–which can not be fully captured by data or numbers, but is best shown and known through story and relationship.
Beloved, let us re-order ourselves and our lives to become who we most truly and authentically are called to be: a mutual community of reciprocity, of love, of compassion and healing. We may very well become a mystery to many around us as we incarnate this one we know as Yeshua–the One who Saves. Let us be neighbors instead of benefactors.
Oh, I know. Being a true neighbor is much harder than being a mere benefactor. Just ask anyone who volunteers down at One Big Tent. We are constantly messing up, relearning, and challenging ourselves as we learn how neighbor is different than benefactor. It requires relationship rather than transaction. It requires vulnerability, authenticity, and intimacy rather than a distanced giving. It is a laying down of one’s life, a giving of one’s very self–the meaning of both the cross and the manger.
For the incarnation, Jesus’ birth, is one moment given to teach us an eternal truth: I am in God; God is in me. God is in you; you are in God. We are in each other. God dwells among us.
Yeshua: the One who Saves.
What’s in a Name? It all depends on how you live it out.
Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.