Following the murder of eleven worshipers and the shooting of six others at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in October 2018, the Synagogue in our neighborhood held a special Shabbat service to pray for the victims, their families, and our nation. At the Shabbat service, the Rabbi read a poem written in honor of the infant whose Bris (the naming ceremony for an infant), was postponed because of the attack.
The author of the poem reflected on the act of giving a name to an infant and listed several Hebrew names that might be appropriate for the child and the circumstance. The author suggested naming the baby Peace, or Comfort, or Healing, or Gift. This sort of suggestion is easy to make regarding Hebrew names because all Hebrew proper names have nominal or literal meanings. The poem ended by expressing the hope that the baby would bear all the names mentioned.
In last Sunday’s Gospel, Simon (whose name means hearer or listener), was given a new name: Peter (Kephas in Aramaic, which means rock or stone). Simon Peter was to be the rock foundation upon whom Jesus (whose name means ‘God saves’), would build a church community. In today’s Gospel, Simon Peter is given yet another name, Satan (which means tempter). Simon Satan became the one who tested the foundations of Jesus’ loyalty to God.
Simon Peter, aka Satan, earned this new name because he rejected Jesus’ true identity immediately after having proclaimed it. You will recall that, in last Sunday’s Gospel reading, Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Mt. 16:15) Simon responded, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Mt. 16:16)
Immediately following this profession of faith by Simon, Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he would go to Jerusalem where he would be killed unjustly by the religious leadership. Today’s reading contains Simon Peter’s reaction to Jesus’ words; he said, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” (Mt 16:22)
Peter was correct to say that Jesus is the Son of God, but he failed to grasp that Jesus’ vocation from God required complete selflessness, even to the extent of accepting an unjust death. When Peter blurted out his horrified reaction to Jesus’ prediction of the Crucifixion, Peter rejected both Jesus’ true identity and the new identity to which Jesus had called Peter when he said, “you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” (Mt. 16:18)
Peter refused to accept that self-sacrifice would be required of God’s Son; in doing so, Peter also refused to accept that self-sacrifice would be required of those who follow the Son. Not surprisingly, the consequences of Jesus’ identity as Son of God are also the consequences of membership in Jesus’ Church; both the Son and his disciples are required to embrace the Cross.
Peter was not unique in his reluctance to follow God’s will. In today’s first reading, Jeremiah expresses deep distress over having to embrace the name “prophet.” Any baptized person who is capable of being honest will admit at least occasional reluctance to embrace the name “disciple.” Like Simon, Jonah’s son, each of us can be called by multiple names, not all of them laudatory.
What are the names that apply to you? There are probably some names that you accept willingly and others that you’d prefer to reject. You might be pleased to be known as responsible, generous, or kind. You might be embarrassed to be called thoughtless, resentful, or fearful.
Everyone wants to be called by the name “good,” but there are as many meanings of the name “good” as there are those who desire that name. A quick review of the week’s news will reveal liars, petit criminals, racists, and murderers who desire to call themselves “good.” The name “good,” however, is credible only when it comes from the One Who is perfect Good. In order to be called “good” by God one must follow in the footsteps of Jesus who revealed the face of eternal Good.
What is your name? Is it afraid, or thoughtless, or generous, or resentful, or forgiving, or worried, or calm, or all the above? Receiving the name “good” is not precluded by having any of those foregoing names, but it does require you to bear faithfully the burden of injustice, forgive your enemies, surrender yourself to God’s will, and follow Jesus the Son of God.