by Father Thomas Weinandy, OFM, Cap.
Names The Genealogy of Jesus
In the opening chapter of his Gospel, Matthew names 46 people. The vast majority are the names that make up Jesus’ genealogy. They are His ancestors going back to Abraham.
Most of these people are significant in many ways Abraham was the father of the Jewish nation; the Moabite Ruth was faithful to her Israelite mother-in-law, Naomi; David was the great king who killed Goliath and conquered the Philistines; Solomon, the Wise, built the temple. Nonetheless, the primary reason why these people are included in this genealogy, and so categorically named, is for the sake of the genealogy itself. What each may have done, good or bad, during the course of his or her life, finds its ultimate significance in that each of them begot a son or a son was begotten of them.
Abraham may be the exemplar of obedient faith, but the importance of that lies in the fact that he begot Isaac. If he had not begotten Isaac, his faith would not have been remembered. Ruth may have devotedly followed Naomi, but her virtue would not have been recorded within history if she had not married Boaz and become the mother of Obed. David may have conquered nations and so become Israel’s greatest king, but that would be of little import had he not begotten Solomon. Solomon may have been wise and built a magnificent temple to the one true God, but if he had not begotten Rehoboam, his reign would hardly merit a footnote in an obscure scholarly journal. What gives all of these named people historical (and theological) significance is that they make up a genealogy: a history of begetting that terminates with a man named Joseph.
After so many hundreds of years this genealogy comes to an abrupt halt because Joseph did not beget anyone. While all of his named male ancestors merit being included in this genealogy, precisely and obviously, because they each begot a son, Joseph merits being included in the genealogy, precisely but ironically, because he did not beget a son. Joseph is named because of who he married, not because of who he begot. He is “the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ” (Mt 1:16). The history and nature of Jesus’ genealogy teaches us two divinely revealed truths.
The Name “Jesus” A Divine Father and a Human Mother
The first truth is that, unlike all of His ancestors, Jesus has no human father. Jesus has no earthly, historical, human father because He has a heavenly, eternal, divine Father. Thus, prior to the Incarnation, He possessed no human name, but He did possess a divine name. From all eternity God the Father begot God the Son. As the Father eternally and simply bears the name “Father,” for that is wholly who He is in the begetting of His Son, so the Son eternally and simply bears the name “Son,” for that is wholly who is as being begotten of the Father. To name God the Father “Father,” and to name God the Son “Son,” is to define exactly who they are. God the Father is wholly and completely the Father of the Son, and God the Son is wholly and completely the Son of the Father.
The second truth is that, while Jesus has no human father because He is the eternal divine Son of the heavenly Father, He does have a human and earthly mother. The eternal Son of the eternal Father became flesh in the womb of Mary through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. Having become man, the Son now possesses not only the divine name Son, but also the human name Jesus. Because He was conceived and born of Mary, this human name of the Son of God incarnate Jesus is extremely important.
Although the name “Jesus” is a human and earthly name, the person who bears it does so by divine decree. The infancy narrative in Matthew’s Gospel makes this evident.
In a dream the angel of the Lord said to Joseph: “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Mt 1:20-21). Who is conceived of Mary is of the Holy Spirit, and so is the Son not of a human father but of the divine Father. Nonetheless, who is conceived in her is a human being a man and so that man, who is the Son of the Father, is to be called by a human name Jesus. Joseph did not have relations with his wife prior to the birth of her son and when this son was born of Mary, Joseph “called His name Jesus” (Mt 1:25). As God the Father eternally bestowed the divine name “Son” upon His only begotten, so Joseph, the earthly icon (symbol) of the heavenly Father, bestows, on behalf the heavenly Father, the temporal name “Jesus” upon the Incarnate Son of the Father.
At this juncture, it is important to perceive one marvelous divinely revealed truth. As the divine name “Son” fully designates that the Son is wholly and entirely simply the Son of the Father, so the human name “Jesus” “YHVH Saves” fully designates that Jesus is wholly and entirely simply our divine Savior.
(The name of God, YHVH, revealed to Moses, is considered unpronounceable. In the Bible, the “unpronounceable tetragrammaton”, the four Hebrew letters, is traditionally rendered “LORD” [Heb. Adonai; Gk. Kyrios; Lat. Dominus], though also sometimes as “Jehovah” or “Yahweh.”)
As the divine name “Son” reveals who the Son personally is in His divine totality, so His human name “Jesus” reveals who He personally is in His incarnate totality. As the name “Son” defines Him as God so the name “Jesus” defines Him as man. “You [Joseph] will call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Mt 1:22). Human names Henry, James, Susan, Jane do not define who the person is who bears the name. But the name “Jesus” does define, and so reveal, who He is the heavenly Son is in our midst as an earthly man and He is thus in our midst as “YHVH Saves.” When Joseph, in accordance with the will of the Father, named the son of Mary “Jesus,” he defined precisely, accurately, and completely the one who bears that name. A few examples will illustrate and develop this divine truth.
The Word Became Flesh and the Name of Jesus
When we consider a painting of the Annunciation or peer into the Christmas crib, what is it that we see portrayed? In the Annunciation we find Gabriel appearing to Mary informing her that she “will conceive in her womb and bear a son” by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit and that His name is to be called Jesus (see Lk 1:26-38).
In the very act of assuming our sinful humanity the Son of God initiated our salvation and in so doing Jesus became Jesus the One who would save us from our sins. The incarnational act, the very act of being conceived in Mary’s womb by the power of the Holy Spirit, is itself a saving act, and so it is the first act by which Jesus does not simply receive His name but actually acquires His name by enacting His name, for in this very act of becoming one with mankind He begins to actualize who He is Jesus, the One who saves.
Similarly, when we gaze upon the nativity scene, we see a child who just came forth from the womb of His mother, Mary. This birth, as with His conception, is a saving act by which the Son of God incarnate is once again becoming who He is. In being born into the world Jesus more fully enacted His name. Being named “Jesus” defines that His act of birth is a saving act; and this saving act of birth more fully conforms Jesus into the very likeness of His name the God who saves. Joseph can rightly, without any hesitation, name His foster son “Jesus” for through His incarnation and birth He has truly become who He authentically is Jesus.
The Paschal Mystery and the Name of Jesus
The Paschal Mystery of His death and resurrection are two of the most notable examples of Jesus fulfilling His name. When we gaze and meditate upon the cross, we see a crucified man suffering and dying. This man has a name His name is Jesus. His name manifests to us that the action that He is performing on the cross is an act of salvation. Jesus, the Son incarnate, is offering His holy and innocent life to His Father as a pure sacrifice for the salvation of the world. On the cross, Jesus is enacting His name to the full and so totally conforming Himself into the very definition of His name YHVH Saves. Jesus crucified is the perfect living icon of His name, of who He is.
In raising Jesus gloriously from the tomb God the Father verifies that His Son’s sacrificial death on the cross did indeed save us from sin and so reconcile us to Him. Moreover, in the Resurrection the Father does not simply confirm that His incarnate Son was not misnamed, but more so He elevates Jesus to the fullness of being Jesus the risen glorious Savior and Lord.
On the first Easter evening Jesus appears to His disciples, breathes upon them, and proclaims: “Receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn 20:22). Jesus is recreating those who believe in Him. He is making them a new creation through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. He is transforming them into children of His Father (see Rom 8:12-17).
This Easter breathing-forth of the Holy Spirit, as confirmed at Pentecost, is an everlasting breathing-forth. In this endless heavenly outpouring of new life, Jesus, as the risen Lord and Savior, ever conforms Himself into who He is Jesus, in whom we have the forgiveness of our sins and the eternal life of the Holy Spirit. At the throne of His Father, our crucified and risen Lord will forever bear the humble name Jesus for He is now and will forever be “YHVH Saves.”
The Eucharist and the Name of Jesus
As the risen Lord, Jesus continually makes present in His very person His saving mysteries and so continually enacts His name as Savior. This is especially so within the seven Sacraments. The Eucharist, as the consummate sacrament, illustrates this.
Within the Eucharistic Liturgy, Jesus, in making Himself present within time and history, makes His one sacrifice present, the sacrifice by which He reconciled us to the Father. Those who participate in the Eucharistic Liturgy unite themselves to this one sacrifice, and so share in and reap the benefits of the very act by which Jesus saved us. Moreover, by sharing in His one sacrifice, we are empowered by His Spirit to receive the risen Jesus truly and really present in the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, in His sacrifice and in His risen presence, we are in communion with Jesus being Jesus for here and now He is enacting His saving name on our behalf, the name/person in whom we, through the indwelling Spirit, have access to the Father.
Thus, the name of Jesus does not simply inform us of who He was and what He did in the past, but His person and name possesses ever-contemporary consequences. Since Jesus is risen, He continually enacts His name as the one in our midst as He who saves. For the Eucharist is the most eminent manner through which His name continues to embody the living reality of who Jesus is.
The Second Coming and the Name of Jesus
All of the above past events, from the conception of Jesus to His resurrection, anticipate the future. This future is clearly perceived in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. In the Eucharist the past salvific deeds, the Paschal mysteries, are made present in order that we might share in them now; and the very present partaking of these mysteries is already, in itself, a participatory foretaste of their fulfillment in the future. The earthly Eucharistic banquet is a living prefiguring of and an anticipatory communion in the heavenly banquet.
This means that, when He comes again in glory, Jesus will fully become our Savior and thus fully become “Jesus.” Coming in glory, Jesus will raise all of the faithful gloriously from the dead so that they might share in the fullness of His glory, and thus obtain everlasting life with the Father in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
In this final and consummate act of salvation, this concluding act of history, Jesus will fully consummate His name. He will be Jesus fully in act because He himself will be our Savior fully in act. Having fully enacted His name, we, as members of Jesus’ body, will be fully in act fully who we were eternally meant to be; for now, in full communion with the risen Christ, we will finally be transformed by the Spirit into the perfect likeness of Jesus Himself.
In our becoming fully who we are at the end of time, Jesus will give us a new name that, like His own name, will precisely define, and so reveal completely, who we are in our personal identity. Our new name and who we are in our totality will, like Jesus and His name, be one. “To him who conquers … I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it” (Rev 2:17).*
This secret name will become manifest to all of the saints and angels so that the whole of creation will recognize who we truly are and, therefore, why we, in communion with Jesus our Savior and Lord, have conquered sin and death and merited, in Him, our eternal reward.
However, in this present sacred interim where we look forward to and grow into the likeness of Jesus, we groan to be set free from sin and death as we await the full revelation of our sonship (see Rom 8:18-25). Moreover, our groaning is merely a faint echo of the groaning of Jesus Himself. As the head of His Body, the Church, Jesus groans more intensely and deeply than we as He resolutely endeavors and relentlessly labors to perfect this Body. Only when His Body comes to full maturity, and so ceases to groan, will He cease to groan, for only then will He have attained the fullness of His name Jesus, God who saves.
Jesus In No Other Name
From the above it is clearly evident why we have salvation in no other name than Jesus (see Acts 4:12). Only Jesus rightfully bears the name “Jesus,” because only Jesus through who He is as the incarnate Son and what He has done through His life, death and resurrection has become the universal and definitive Savior, and thus the singular and only Lord of heaven and earth. No one else deservedly, rightly, or properly bears the name of Jesus not Buddha, nor the Hindu gods and goddesses, nor Muhammad, nor anyone else to come for they have not enacted nor will any ever enact that name; they have not become nor will any ever become “YHVH Saves.”
Only Jesus is Jesus.
The hymn in Saint Paul’s letter to the Philippians (2:6-11) proclaims the truth of Jesus and His name:
Though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on the cross.
Therefore, God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that 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.
* In this chapter of Revelation, Christ is addressing the seven churches, admonishing them to be faithful and announcing their reward for conquering sin. Though the churches are addressed singly, the Lord’s message can be understood to apply to all members of His Body.
Father Thomas G. Weinandy, O.F.M., Cap., is a theologian and executive director of the Secretariat of Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, DC.
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