by Maria Evans
True confession: Sometimes I have been known to change my dogs’ names over time or have multiple nicknames. Generally, it’s account on something they do or something I notice as we live our lives together–and somehow, they end up living into them. Take, for instance, my late dog Willis. As he grew, it became apparent that the “part husky” part of him was manifested when he opened his mouth. He rarely barked; mostly he “talked” in a series of “woo woo woo’s.” So over time, he became Mr. Willis Woo, and later, simply “Mr. Woo,” “Woo” or “Woo dog.” (The funny part was that an Asian friend of mine thought his name was Mr. Wu, because she thought his whiskers looked like a long, droopy mustache on a wise elderly Asian grandfather.)
Over time, as I called Willis some form of “Woo” when speaking to him, I noticed that calling him “Woo” prompted him to respond more often with more “Woo woo’s.” The more he responded with the “Woo” noise, the more he became Mr. Woo, and one day I realized he really was Mr. Woo, not just in name but in identity.
In today’s Gospel, we See Jesus meeting Simon. All Jesus knew about Simon was that he was Andrew’s brother (and, although it’s not recorded, whatever Andrew divulged about his brother). He’d never spent time with him, or gotten to know him–but there was something about Simon that resulted in an audacious move–giving Simon a new (or at least another) name–Cephas–translated as “Rock.” (The name “Peter” comes from translating the Arameic to the Greek equivalent, petros.)
It’s doubly odd, because it doesn’t mean any particular kind of rock.
Not a big rock, like a mountain or cliff.
Not a boulder.
Not a rock that looks like anything or represents anything in particular.
Just a rock–plain and unassuming.
I always wonder, “What was it Jesus saw to give him that name? And why upon first meeting?” Generally speaking, people don’t meet someone and go, “Oh, hi. Nice to meet you…and by the way, I’m changing your name.” Also, generally speaking, most folks don’t cotton to being called something different by a stranger. (I don’t even like it when people call me “Marie” instead of Maria. I usually correct that pretty quickly.) Yet, we hear no evidence Simon responded with “that’s not my name,” or tried to disavow himself of the name. Why? Various commentators like to talk that Jesus was prophesying with that name change, but another truism about our relationship with God is that God respects our free will. God doesn’t force us to be what we don’t want to be. I wonder if it wasn’t something simpler…was it because there was something about that name that Simon knew deep within himself, that something inside him had always been Cephas?
I don’t have any explanation in our lived 21st Century lives today other than that an interesting connect-the-dots happens sometime as we become more deeply committed as Jesus followers, when we move from Christ being on the periphery to a more central spot in our lives. We can begin to see glimpses of who we always were but did not or could not admit to ourselves, and we can slowly become more comfortable with our real selves–the person God has always known and loved all along–the person Jesus sees and calls by name.
Sometimes we honestly don’t know the names of our true selves at first. When we first hear it, it sounds distant and foreign. Sometimes maybe all we do is respond with the sounds we hear, like my old Woo Dog used to do. Yet…over time, if we are brave enough to stick with the relationship, we can become more and more of that person every day, and we can slowly rest in the thought that this identity that we did not recognize, was us all along, and live into it.
What is the name of the person you’ve always been but can’t quite see how it fits within yourself as you are today? How might you hear that name more clearly during Lent?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, is a grateful member of Trinity Episcopal Church and a transitional Deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. You can also share her journey on her blog, Chapologist.