Naming Jesus

By: Barbara Roedel

Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles, June 29

Acts 12:1-11; Psalm 34:2-3,4-5,6-7,8-9; 2 Timothy 4:6-8,7-18; Matthew 16:13-19

Names and images reveal how we see a person, what our experience of that person is, and what role they play in our lives. In today’s Gospel, Jesus questioned Peter as to what the people of Caesarea Philippi were saying about him.

Some people believed Jesus was John the Baptist, Elijah or Jeremiah. Others believed Jesus was a prophet. Jesus quickly moved on and asked Peter “But who do you say that I am?”

Peter had been following Jesus for some time (Matthew 4:18). Peter had heard Jesus proclaim the Gospel to a great many people (4:23), heard many teachings (5:1-7:29, 13:1-53), and witnessed numerous healings (8:1-9:35). He had been sent on missions with other disciples to proclaim the Gospel and to heal the diseases of the lost sheep of Israel (10:5-8), and had heard Jesus’ predictions of persecution (10:16-30).

Peter had watched Jesus feed crowds of people who came to hear his teachings (Matthew 14:13-21, 15:32-38), and saw Jesus walk on water (14:22-33). He had heard confrontations between Jesus and church leaders (15:1-9).

The Spirit led Peter to his answer. Peter knew and had experienced Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Many devout Muslims pray a litany prayer several times a day. The prayer consists of 99 names for God, such as The Holy, The Peace, The Generous, etc. It’s very beautiful and has challenged me to think of the many ways God is alive in our world and in my life personally. I began thinking about all the ways I could name God.

My personal list has names for God that I identified with through my spiritual journey and includes traditional ways I name God, such as Creator, Jesus Christ, Risen One, Prince of Peace. I also added biblical images such as vine, mother hen, potter, and rock. In addition, I jotted down inspirational names I use in my personal prayer: Breath of Life, Hope, Ineffable Mystery, Center of My Life.

I now have 115 names on my ongoing list. I keep the list in my prayer book so I can add more names and images as the Spirit teaches me in my life.

Have you ever answered the question yourself as to who you believe Jesus is? And has the answer changed or evolved in your life as you have come to know God through different life experiences?

When I was a child, I felt very loved by Jesus. My image of God was of Jesus surrounded by children and he loved all the children of the world no matter who they were and where they lived.

As a young married woman, I knew God as Faithfulness as my husband struggled with health issues, blindness, and unemployment.

As a young widow, I knew God as Compassion, who held me gently as I grieved and honored my pain and loss. The God of Resurrection nudged me to move on to a new life.

As a college student in my 40s, students from Third World countries introduced me to God as Liberation.

Through the pain of poverty and deprivation of basic human needs, I came to know God as Justice, who calls me to reach out to those among us who struggle daily to provide food, clothing, housing, medical care for their families.

As I walked early this morning, I marveled at the beauty of the dew drops on my roses reflecting the sun and I prayed in gratefulness to God as Incredible Beauty.

How do you picture God in your life? Do you have particularly intimate images the Spirit has taught you as you reflect on your spiritual journey? That’s what Jesus is asking Peter and us when he says, “But who do you say that I am?”

The mission director at Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Peoria, Barbara Roedel holds a master’s degree in theology from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. She is a member of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Peoria Heights.

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