There are two bits that jump out of this week’s lectionary passage in the Gospel and both are connected to the naming of names. Maybe it’s because we’ve had a string of baptisms at church recently and new names to write in new Bibles. Or it’s my recent thinking about jobs and job titles. Or maybe just a parent’s sensitivity to names and naming.
The passage opens with John the Baptist’s shouts. “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”
Lamb of God is a title found only in the Gospel of John yet it evokes the richness of tradition. From Abraham’s impossible moment of obedience to God’s calling through the Israelites’ escape from Egypt and into the later rituals of atonement in the Temple and Isaiah’s strong visions of peace yet to come, the lamb is a deep image of humanity’s continuing relationship with God.
John the Baptist see Jesus as the fulfilment of that grand chain of history and he glories in proclaiming to all who will hear. Here is the Lamb of God!
But I’m not sure that the disciples are convinced. They are no joyous shouts of recognition on their part. They don’t even repeat this title. When Jesus turns to them, they call him Rabbi. Teacher. They recognise his authority but leave the religio-poetic assertions to John.
Then Jesus asks them what they are looking for, and they can only ask him where he is staying. A fumbled moment? Perhaps. Something to fill the space as they try to understand who this is who stands before them.
Come and see.
And that’s the gospel right there. An invitation not just to follow, but to see.
John calls them to look and Jesus asks them to see. You can picture this moment, Jesus quietly, gently speaking, then turning again and walking away, ready for their companionship, open to whatever choice they will make. And these new disciples do follow and they do see for themselves. They see that this teacher, this lamb of God, is something wholly new. Holy and new.
The second moment for me comes with Simon’s new name. His brother Andrew – one of the following disciples – has brought him along the next day and before he can speak a word, Jesus welcomes him by name.
“You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
Jesus shows that he knows Simon. In the tradition of the day, he places him within his family context. And then he opens to door to all the days that will come by giving him a surprising new name.
New names can be awkward. With each of my newborn children, I’ve experienced the unreality of speaking their names out loud. These were names the Spouse and I passed back and forth between us as secrets and almost dreams in the waiting days before the . With the baby comes the strange reality of the names we’d chosen – gifts we’d so carefully and privately selected for our children. Names now to share and celebrate with everyone.
My own name change when we got married was equally strange and made more so by circumstance. The day after our wedding, we were in my parents’ backyard for another party of family and friends. It was yet-another opportunity to gather and eat and also this time round to open up cards and wedding presents. Some presents come well wrapped or maybe some pocket knives are a little tricky… Anyway, I managed to slice the top off the first finger on my right hand. Just the fleshy fingertip part. Not a pretty sight and off we rushed to the hospital. The next day, before skipping town to head off to Quebec City for our honeymoon, we stopped by the bank to deposit a few kindly gifted cheques – made out to me with my shining new name. Of course, there was paperwork to fill in at the bank to confirm this new name – and a very awkward attempt to sign it using a heavily bandaged right hand. I remember sitting in the car afterwards, playing with my new ring with fumbling fingers, wondering if the botched signatures were good enough to work. New names aren’t always easy.
I wonder how Simon wore his new name. Cephas. Peter. The Rock. Did he encourage others to use it? A strange gift and an awkward shift. An unexpected newness. Sometimes that’s the Gospel, too, isn’t it? Sometimes grace surprises us.