I am a rock, I am an island
"I Am A Rock" by Paul Simon
A winter's day
In a deep and dark December;
I am alone,
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
I've built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It's laughter and it's loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. Matthew 16:13-18
Jesus calls Peter a rock. It’s an ambiguous nickname. Yes, a rock is solid, reliable, and a strong foundation. But a rock is also hard, immovable and in danger of being isolated. Would you call yourself a rock?
I like this story in the bible. It is interesting because it involves a mutual name-giving between two people, Jesus and Simon (Peter). Simon Peter calls Jesus the Messiah, the Son of the living God. This name means the anointed one, like a king. Jesus in turn names Simon Rock, in Greek, ‘Petros’, from where we get his most familiar name, Peter.
Naming is important in most cultures and especially religions. Indeed in some cultures it has a mystical, even magical aspect. You do not share your name too readily, knowing a person’s name can give one power over the other, as is illustrated in some stories like in the Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin. This is also evident in the stories in the bible, like for example when Jacob wrestles all night with an unknown stranger and towards the end of the fight asks for the stranger’s name.
“The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’ So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ Then the man said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.’ Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’” Genesis 32: 22-30
Notice again the mutuality in the attempt to learn the other’s name. But in this case the stranger (God) does not give his name. Presumably that would be to give too much away.
What is the meaning of your name? Does it have a history or a story behind it. Why was it chosen for you or by you?
The name of Jesus has meaning, both historically and spiritually. In terms of biblical narrative it was chosen by Mary through the revelation of an angel. The name ‘Jesus’ is the latin version of the Aramaic Yeshua, which is in English also the name ‘’Joshua’. The name means ‘God saves.’ Joshua was a hero of the Hebrew scriptures. He was a military leader who fought the Canaanites when the Hebrew people entered the promised land after their exodus from slavery in Egypt. Joshua was successful in battle of which his most famous victory was at Jericho.
Jesus was not a military leader but he was a person of salvation. He brought healing to the sick, hope to the poor, and restored the outcast into society. Some Christians ascribe supernatural power to the name ‘Jesus’ which gives power to cause miraculous healing.
The New Testament has many names/titles for Jesus, most were given within the first 100 years after his lifetime. These include some traditional titles for important people (including Caesar) like Lord, Son of God, Saviour and some interesting use of metaphor, many if which were developed from the Hebrew tradition such as Prince of peace, Lamb of God, Bread of life, Good Shepherd, Light of the world, Vine, and Gate.
I invite you to ponder two questions.
First, what name do you give to Jesus? Is there a word or metaphor that can describe your own personal connection to Jesus? Can you think of something beyond the traditional names that describes the unique role Jesus takes in your life?
Secondly, what is the name that Jesus gives to you? Is it a name that describes your true being, the essential you? Or is it a name that says who you are becoming or a purpose that God has for you?
I would imagine that these two names are related. The name you give to Jesus will say something about who you are. The name you imagine that Jesus gives to you will say something about the nature of Jesus.