From Pejorative to Promise

Scripture Focus: Genesis 35.9-10
9 After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him. 10 God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel. 

Reflection: From Pejorative to Promise
By John Tillman

The number of people with name changes in the Bible is long and many of the changes are significant.

Abram and Sarai are renamed Abraham and Sarah.
Ben-Oni is renamed Benjamin.
Naomi renames herself Mara.
Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah are renamed Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 
James and John are called Boanerges, the Sons of Thunder.
Simon is called Cephas or Peter, the rock.
Joseph is renamed Barnabas.
And, of course, Jacob’s name is changed by God to Israel. 

All of the examples above, a changed name meant a changed identity. They said something about how they thought about themselves, how the world saw them, and about their God.

The name, Israel, doesn’t seem to stick the first time, so God comes to Jacob again, repeating the name change and the promise that goes with it. Jacob was a pejorative, meaning “heel grasper.” Israel is a blessing, meaning “contends with God” or perhaps a promise, “overcomes with God.”

Names still have power. We name ourselves and others. Twitter and Instagram handles, gamertags, and many other names function as self-description. The names we give ourselves can be encoded with inside jokes or vague pop culture references.

We also engage in damaging name-calling. Instead of validating a part of one’s humanity, name-calling strips it. Name-calling has been used heavily in politics of late, but its roots go much further back. Name-calling is an attack on the image of God in others and Jesus compared it to murder. (Matthew 5:21-22)

Dealing with a few famous name-callers would be bad enough. Some of us, however, are our own name-calling bullies. We bully ourselves with names like, Stupid, Fat, Worthless. These hurt us more than any other person’s name for us could.

The Bible tells us that Jesus has a name for us. (Revelation 2.17; 3.12) It is not a pejorative but a promise. When Jesus names us, he doesn’t badmouth us, he blesses us. Jesus, rather than call us names like “loser” or “deplorable,” give us new and good names. 

He became a loser in our place when he died on the cross. He erased our deplorable sins, paying for them by his sacrificial death. He gives us new names of victory and holiness that only we may know. We can come to know his name for us by coming close, wrestling with him as Jacob did, holding on to him until he lovingly names us as his child.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Show us the light of your countenance, O God, and come to us. — Psalm 67.1

Today’s Readings
Genesis 35-36 (Listen – 9:33)
Mark 6 (Listen – 7:23)

Read more about Identity Lost, Identity Gained
In Jacob’s preparation to fool his father he put on qualities that his father loved, covering his own unloved qualities.

Read more about Suffering for Our True Identity
It is not all right to be a Christian. And if we ask why, the answer is a sad one; Christians have given Christianity a bad name. — Madeleine L’Engle

Faith After the Storm

Mark 4.39-40
Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

Reflection: Faith After the Storm
By John Tillman

How tired Christ must have been to be asleep during the storm. 

Mark gives us the beautiful eyewitness detail that Christ’s head was on a pillow. Jesus had healed and preached all day long. Then he had preached it all again to his disciples who had heard the stories but, just like the crowd, had a hard time understanding.

Jesus was beaten down by the demands of his work so much so that the wildly rocking boat, the crashing waves, and even the boat filling up with water didn’t wake him. In the midst of this terrible storm, Jesus slept on until his shaken disciples shook him awake.

The disciples don’t seem to wake Jesus because he can save them from the storm. They merely wake him to complain about his treatment of them. “Don’t you care that we are going to drown?” The drowning seems a foregone conclusion. There is no direct request, merely bitterness and accusation. 

How many times do we go to Jesus in prayer, without faith but with bucket-fulls of complaints and accusations.

Don’t you care, Jesus?
Why don’t you answer?
What’s wrong with you?

When Jesus calms the storm, the disciples’ fears should be as calm as the sea, but instead they are heightened. The disciples are more terrified than before. 

Jesus asleep on the pillow is a punching bag for our emotions. Asleep, he cannot hear or dispute our complaints, our fears, our version of events. But Jesus standing and rebuking the storm rebukes us as well. “Quiet. Be still.”

Jesus standing and commanding the storm is intimidating and disturbing. He is no longer someone we can shake awake and push around. He is no longer the servile employee behind the desk of God’s complaint department. Instead he holds power that cannot be debated with. He is someone who demands our service, commands our compliance. We may be as terrified by a Jesus who calms storms as we are by the storms themselves.

As we examine our hearts this weekend, spend some time contemplating the fearful question of the disciples, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Though we still have no faith after the storm, he is willing to do great things through our lives. If the winds and waves listen to his rebukes…we can too.

Be stilled and calmed by Christ this weekend.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. — 2 Corinthians 4.6

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 33 (Listen – 2:59) 
Mark 4 (Listen – 5:01)

This Weekend’s Readings
Genesis 34 (Listen – 4:18), Mark 5 (Listen – 5:21)
Genesis 35-36 (Listen – 9:33), Mark 6 (Listen – 7:23)

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Read more about Thanksgiving Stirs God’s Heart
When Simon (not yet called Peter) saw what Christ had done for him and his partners, he skipped right over being thankful to being fearful. “Go away from me! I’m not worthy. I don’t understand! You don’t know how sinful I am!”

Read more about Prayer from the Belly of the Beast
We may not be in the beast’s belly because of wrongdoing, but because our world is filled with beasts. But regardless of how we came to be there, our prayer may be sharpened, amplified, and have greater effect on our hearts.