Our Monday night – Wednesday morning adult Bible study book in January and February was entitled “Love Without Limits”, by Jacqueline Bussie. In a chapter entitled, “Wearing the wrong name tag”, Jacqueline tells this story about her Grandmother . . .
My grandmother – my mother’s mother – never called me by name. I don’t mean Grandma Perkins never called me Jacqueline, I mean she never even made it to Jackie or Jacquie. Instead, she chose to call me by a name no one else on God’s green earth ever did Aileen. My middle name. As a kid, every time she did this, it felt like I’d looked in the mirror and seen reflected back the face of the tooth fairy, who everyone knew was not real but made-up. My grandmother never called anyone else in my family, including my cousins or siblings, by their middle name or by a name other than the one they always went by. She never even nicknamed anyone; for some strange reasons, I was the one exception.
I only saw my grandmother once a year, if that, but each time I was shocked anew by her reckless name treason. One August morning when I was nine years old, we arrived in rural Indiana, after our long drive from Georgia. We went straight to Grandma Perkin’s house. I hadn’t seen her for a year and was eager to show off several new lost teeth. I was also excited to see her gazillion plants, her huge white fluffball of a dog Bear, and her cages of green and yellow parakeets.
As we stood in Grandma Perkin’s garage, Bear decided to greet me with that unfortunate but signature dog hello of humping my leg. My grandmother ignored this indignity but added her own. “Aileen, how are you?” she asked. Soooo awkward. I can’t remember how I answered her, if I ever did. Sad as it is to confess, I was never really comfortable at my grandma’s house, and that discomfort didn’t only have to do with Bear’s libido. Visiting grandma’s house was the kind of thing that I loved in anticipation, until I was actually there and had to answer to a name that was not my own.
If we want to talk about powerful names, we need only to turn to today’s text: “Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (vv. 9-11).
Jesus. Only five letters. What a name! It’s a name about which sermons have been preached, by which lives have been transformed, on behalf of which people have fanned out to the corners of the earth. It’s a name so powerful that bodies have been healed, hospitals have been built, schools have been established, people have been rescued and sins have been forgiven. All of it — in this name, Jesus!
And yet, the name itself is not extraordinary. In fact, in its time, it was quite a common name, like Bob, Dick and Harry are for ours. The Jewish historian Josephus cynically observed that he knew at least 20 people named Jesus.
So, what is so special about this Jesus?
The name, Jesus, like most popular Hebrew names, has theological significance. Its traditional etymology would be something like “God (Yahweh) saves.” Matthew draws upon this tradition in his birth narrative when the Lord’s messenger indicates to Joseph that “you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (1:21).
What is so special about this Jesus? Why should every knee bend “in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue … confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”? (vv. 10, 11).
Paul points to an answer in verses 6 and 7. This particular Jesus (unlike that kid Jesus over on the next block in Nazareth who was the potter’s son, or the one in Cana who herded goats) “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.” This is what sets this Jesus apart from all the others, the 20 or so known by Josephus. This Jesus is the new Adam — the one who succeeds at exactly the point at which the first Adam failed.
In the Genesis account, the Tempter tells Eve that she “will be like God, knowing good and evil” (3:5). Eve succumbs to the temptation, and shares it with Adam, initiating the fall of humanity. In Philippians, Paul affirms that Jesus overcomes this human temptation to seek and exploit equality with God,” and urges us to have this “same mind.”
This Jesus freely chooses servanthood. It was an act of divine grace. Theologically, this is important because it lifts up the gracious nature of the divine-human relationship. This relationship flows in one direction: God acts on our behalf in Christ Jesus out of free choice, not through any divine compulsion or obligation.
We are called to be equally gracious as was this God-mortal, divine-human person with the name of Jesus. Like a good writer, Paul lifts up the point of this passage in its very first sentence: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (v. 5). Like Jesus, we are God’s precious children, and, like Jesus, we are called to freely decide to take up the mantle of servant-hood and to become obedient “to the point of death — even death upon a cross” (v. 8).
In this way, Paul reminds the Philippians of who they are.
Paul is writing to the church at Philippi, a congregation he had founded, and which had been very generous to him (4:15-20). His gratitude is clear, but he is concerned that its members continue to live the life to which they have been called — that, like Jesus, their obedient servant-life continues to reflect who they already are. To the church in Rome, he wrote that in Christ, we have been elevated to the status of children of God, “and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17).
Yet, like Jesus, we are invited to choose a servant’s obedience. The reality for the disciples and for us is that everything we have — including the faith that empowers our service — is not our own, but the gift of God.
We have no power of our own; we have no inherent authority. We are those who have turned our backs on the Lord and his authority. We are called to face this painful reality, and like Paul, we are called to give thanks to the One who has redeemed and restored us. We give thanks to the One we follow this week to be with him at his last supper on Thursday and with him at his Friday cross.
We give thanks that at our baptisms, we were named “children of God”. We are called to be followers of Christ, to be servants, to be humble, to forgive as we have been forgiven, to love one another without limits.
What’s in a name? As an adult, Jacqueline shared her grandmother story with a close friend. She told her she didn’t like her grandma calling her Aileen, her middle name.
Jacqueline writes . . .
The next day she called me back and asked me how much I knew about the name Aileen. “Nothing,” I answered, “except that it means light”. Helen Beth said, “Well, it’s Irish.” I was shocked. I didn’t know that. My grandmother was Irish. She cherished her Irish heritage. I remembered attending her big Irish family reunion once as a kid. Helen Beth continued. “The name has two meanings,” she said: Bringer of Light and She knows. Hearing this, I got chills.
As if that weren’t enough after I hung up the phone with Helen Beth, I did a little research of my own. I discovered that Aileen is the Irish version of Helen. Until that moment, I’d never realized I share a name with my surrogate mom, who’s one of the people I love most in this world.
My grandma was right: I do know, at last. Real love renames everything, even your past.
Philippians 2:9-11 . . . 9Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name
that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue should confessthat Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
As we follow Jesus to the cross this week, let us have the same mind that was in Christ. Let us seek humility, not praise. Be humbly, as was Jesus who became human. Be a servant-like Jesus. As Jesus loved us on the cross without limits, let us love one another without limits.