Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Genesis 35:10 -- On Names and Labels

"And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel."
Genesis 35:10

Names are often a big deal in the scriptures.  Saul became Paul, Simon became Peter, Abram became Abraham, and here Jacob becomes Israel.  Jesus Christ has many names, as does God the Father.  In Ruth 1:20, Naomi calls herself Mara because of the unfortunate things that had led her back to Bethlehem.  In Hosea 2:16 God tells us that in the last days that symbolically instead of calling him master, we will call him husband.  In John 15:15, Christ calls us friends rather than servants.  In the sacrament prayers every week we promise to take upon ourselves the name of Christ.
The names and labels that God offer us matter.  No matter how small the name change, the symbolism is large. For Jacob to be Israel changed his whole life, and the history of the world.  God being symbolically the husband of the church rather than the master of it shows us the mercy and the love that he will show us in the last days.  Promising to take upon ourselves Christ's name is a giant symbolic promise, to show his works in our lives and to be representatives of him.  Likewise, the names and symbols that we choose for ourselves matter as well.  Naomi chose Mara because it meant "bitter" rather than the meaning of Naomi, which was "pleasant."  It showed a change in her outlook, and in the way that she thought about herself.
Sometimes I think that we choose labels for ourselves, or accept labels from society, that trap us rather than freeing us.  The labels and names that we accept change the way that we think about ourselves.  Some labels can help us, and some can hurt us.  Christ called us friends rather than servants because servants don't know what their Lord is doing... and he wants us to know, and be part of it.  Labels like "Democrat," "Republican," "Ex-Con," "Minority," "Immigrant," "Homosexual," "Adulterer," "CEO," "Single," "Dumb," "Thoughtless," "Lazy," "Disorganized," "Rude," and so many others ... all the ones that get laid on us or that we lay on others might be true to a certain extent, or be things that are chosen, or be ways that we think about ourselves... but when they come up against the labels that God offers us, do they still have power?  Should they?  Does it matter what others think of us, or how we think about others, or about life, or even how we think about ourselves, when Christ offers us his own name, and calls us friends?
Today, like Jacob, let's cast off our old names and our old labels.  Let's bend or break the boundaries of our old identities and make room for God.  Let's move forward, new people in Christ.  Let's accept his name, and his friendship, and let's do things the Lord's way, not society's way.  Let's make a difference for good in this world, unfettered by the boundaries of what anyone besides God thinks or feels about how we should act or behave or be.

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