The Name of Jesus
It is very striking that nowhere in the Gospels do the disciples call Jesus by his familiar name. He is addressed as ‘Lord,’ ‘Master,’ ‘Rabbi’ or ‘Teacher’. All four Evangelists throughout their narratives use the name Jesus but his companions never do. Blind Bartimaeus calls out ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ but it is the only time that the name given to both Mary and Joseph by the angel is used by anyone addressing Jesus. It is not until the after the Resurrection that the name Jesus sems to be liberated in all its power. In Acts 3 it is in the name of Jesus that Peter heals the lame beggar. ‘I have no silver and gold but in the name of Jesus Christ stand up and walk!’ St Paul in writing to the Philippians seems to quote a contemporary hymn which concludes ‘at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father’.
The name Jesus meaning ‘God saves’ is, to put it bluntly, a shortcut into the heart of God.
In a verse much loved by evangelicals, ‘If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved,’ (Romans 10.10), the full power of using the name of Jesus and everything that means is so clearly expressed. The name Jesus is both a summary of the Gospel and a description of his nature.
Most significantly it is an intimate, personal form of address. In the same way Jesus taught us to call God ‘Abba Father’ or ‘Dad’, we are to express our relationship with him in an intimate and personal way. Whether it is true or not, it is a lovely story that Pope Benedict’s last words were ‘Jesus I love you’. It certainly rings true to me.
In the twelfth century there was a great devotion to the name of Jesus. Bernard of Clairvaux’s hymn has come to us in the translation: ‘Jesus the very thought of thee with sweetness fills my heart’. The English Mystics of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries had great devotion to the name of Jesus. Julian of Norwich, Richard Rolle, Walter Hilton and the writer of the Cloud of Unknowing all encourage and teach their readers to use the name of Jesus as prayer. In the Orthodox Tradition, there is widespread use of the ‘Jesus Prayer’: Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy (pity) on me a sinner.
But what about you, dear reader? Do you call upon the name of Jesus or do you baulk at such intimacy? Many people do. In Ghostly Counsel I often advise people to ‘stay close to Jesus’. Certainly, at times of trial, especially bereavement, to stay close to Jesus is a great comfort and strength. If this means nothing to you, or hits a significant cringe spot, this might be an invitation to prayer and reflection exploring the vital question that Jesus posed: ‘Who do you say I am?’.