What is His Name?

(Homily for Third Sunday of Lent, Year C)

Bottom line: God wants us to know his name - and to tell us our true name.

In todayís Old Testament reading, God reveals his name to Moses. A group of people who place great emphasis on this passage are the Jehovah Witnesses. Most of you have probably had Jehovah Witnesses come to your door or approach you in some other setting. Very likely, they asked you this question: "Do you know the name of God?" That is not a bad question.

Today we hear Moses asking God what his name is. To understand the importance of this question we need a little background. When God created the first human being, he placed the man in a beautiful garden and gave him a task. This is what he had to do - give names to all the animals. He saw a graceful animal with a very long neck and said, giraffe. Another small green animal hopped on the ground, then entered the water. Adam called it a frog. He gave a name to every animal. You would think he would be very happy with his beautiful garden, but he was not completely happy. In spite of having the company of all the animals, he still felt lonely. Even though he knew the name of each animal, none of them knew his name.

To understand what is at stake here, allow me a personal example. I have a dog that I love very much. I gave him the name, Samwise, but I have never said to him, "Now, Sam, I want you to know my name, I am Fr. Phil." He would just look at me, wondering if I am going to take him for a walk or give him something to eat. He is wonderful, but he cannot know my name.

Likewise, in the Garden of Eden no animal could know Adamís name. So God cast a deep sleep over the man and took out a rib. (Evidently it was the first spare rib.) Anyway, God fashioned the rib into a woman. When the man awoke, he exclaimed, "this one at last is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone." Then he said, "she shall be called woman for out of her man she has been taken." In Hebrew the word for woman is ishah and the word for man is ish. She was not only the most beautiful thing the man had seen. Much more important, she could know his name.

I often talk to engaged couples about this. During their engagement and marriage, they almost always have special names for each other: bunny, tiger, cupcake, pudding, sugar, I hope not vinegarÖ One of my friends calls his wife "bubs." I am not sure what it means, but I think it has something to do with bubbles. Anyway, the Bible says that God gives a new name to his beloved. In the book of Revelation, Jesus has this to say about the one who approaches him, "I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it." (2:17) The Lord has a special name for you and me.

But what about God himself? He knows our name, but can we know his name? In todayís first reading God instructs Moses to tell the Israelites that "I AM" has sent him. This seems mysterious - and it is. The Israelites shied away from pronouncing the four letters which are here translated I AM. But they knew they had been given something very precious: Godís name. In other words, he invited them to a relationship of intimacy Ė the kind of relationship that exists between two dear friends or between a groom and his bride.

Now the difference between God and man is infinitely greater than the difference between man and other animals. To cross that divide, God himself has to fashion the bridge. When he revealed his name to Moses, it was a great step, like tossing a rope across a gorge. The revelation of the name foreshadowed the one who would himself be the bridge between God and man. Jesus makes it clear he is God among us. At one point he says, "Before Abraham came to be, I AM." Then he makes a series of declarations beginning with the words I AM. I AM the living water, the bread come down from heaven, the way, the truth, the resurrection and the life. The name of God is Jesus.

That name is precious: Jesus. Today we often hear Jesus' name used carelessly, as a joke or an exclamation. Some even try to discredit the name. When we hear that name used badly, we should respond by saying the precious name softly in one's heart. That name has power. The name of Jesus makes the demons flee. It soothes a wounded spirit. That name opens the door to the one relationship which will never disappoint. And something else happens when we draw near to Jesus. He not only allows you and me to say his name; he speaks my true name and yours. He gives that white stone with a new name written on it. Someone said that the greatest human desire is that someone else knows us as we really are. Only Jesus can do that.

In these remaining weeks of Lent, we hear the invitation to come to him. To speak his name: Jesus. If someone asks you if you know Godís name, you could say Jehovah or Yahweh. We now, however, know that the one who says, I AM, has shown his face to us. His name is Jesus.

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Spanish Version

From Archives (Year C homilies for Third Sunday of Lent):

First Things: Confession (2016)
The Stakes Are High (2013)
Purpose of the Church (2010)
What is His Name? (2007)
Primary Purpose of the Church (2004)
If You Do Not Repent (2001)
You Stink! (1998)

Homilies for Year A Readings for RCIA Scrutinies:

Prayer and Spiritual Combat Week 3 (2014)
Thirst (2011)
Why So Dissatisfied? (2008)
The Scent of Water (2005)
What She Desired (2002)
The One You Want (1999)

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