A mutual, loving relationship in the name of Jesus

“I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:26)

Did you catch the Huffington Post article this week about the fastest growing baby names? ‘King’ and ‘Messiah’. Yes, ‘King’ and ‘Messiah’.

Expectations for our children must be growing!

While we may joke about what our names mean, the humour always reveals a glimmer of truth: Our names do reveal something of our essence. Our names are gateways into our character. People get to know us, first, by knowing our names.

My first name is Martin — I was born on Reformation Sunday (always the last Sunday in October), named after the church reformer of the 16th century, Martin Luther. And it so happens I am a Lutheran pastor!

My second name is Emanuel — which in the Hebrew language identifies God’s presence, meaning “God is with us”. In the Gospel of Matthew (1:23), Emanuel is ascribed to the coming Messiah. I like to think God is always with me.

My last name — Malina — as you may know reading this blog, means, from the Polish language, ‘raspberry’. I like to think raspberries convey sweetness.

Well, that pretty well sums it up! Now you know who I am!

What does your name signify about you? Inquiring can be both an amusing and insightful exercise.

In the Gospel reading (John 17:20-26) for this seventh Sunday after Easter, in the High Priestly Prayer, Jesus prays for the unity of his disciples present and future (that’s us!). There, we find a delightful play on words (in Greek) between ‘one’ (hen) and ‘in’ (en).

Indeed, to be one with another is to be in them. Jesus describes his intimate relationship with the Father this way. When I was a teenager in the 1980s, we used to talk like this to describe something or someone we liked — I’m in to that kind of music; or, I’m in to that person.

Our God is a relational God, to begin with. And, what is more, this relationship is characterized by affection and love. The word ‘love’ is mentioned five times in this short passage about divine and human unity.

The reciprocity of love described here necessitates some engagement on our part. We are called to respond. “In the name of Jesus”, we pray. “In the name of Jesus”, we involve ourselves in Christ’s mission on earth. “In the name of Jesus” we live, we breathe, we move and have our being. We are part of this dance with Jesus; we have a vital role to play in our relationship with God.

Because what Jesus teaches us is what is vital to any healthy relationship whether divine or human: mutuality. We speak here of a mutual relationship of love. Should Jesus live in us, which he promises to do, we engage in mutuality. That is, what you want most from this relationship with God — you first give.

If you want forgiveness, try forgiving others and yourself.

If you want love, give it to someone else.

If you want respect, show respect to God and to others.

And this concept of mutuality operates, really, in all healthy relationships — whether marriage, work, friendships, families, etc. At first, it may feel counterintuitive. Because what you want is something you may feel you lack. The paradox, however, lies in precisely the opposite: You will only receive what you think you don’t have, by giving it out to others.

But lest we get it into our heads that we must be like our ‘King’ or ‘Messiah’ — even if our names reflect such a designation! — stop, breathe, and let go of the pressure, demands and expectations of your perceived purpose in life!

The relationship of love begins when God calls us by name (Isaiah 43:1). When God says our name, we are blessed indeed. God’s voice naming us calls us back to ourselves. In the garden the morning of the resurrection, Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener; it isn’t until Jesus speaks her name, “Mary”, when she is brought back to herself — and recognizes Jesus for who he is, the risen Son of God (John 20:16). The mutual relationship is born, and reborn, each time Jesus calls us by name.

Unlike what happens in a dance, the two partners involved in the covenant relationship with God are not entirely equal. We are not Jesus. And while in the Holy Spirit we can do great things for God and God’s mission, the first move comes from Jesus. He chose us (John 15:16). He called us by name to join in the dance. He makes the first move. Because when we slip and fall in the dance of life and love — which is bound to happen — Jesus is there to pick us right up again.

Because God loves us first.

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