A barely-known priest in Memphis, Tennessee, who is not a professional Scripture scholar, has
nevertheless written six books on Matthew’s Gospel that he claims will excite anyone who reads them with the promise and challenge of the Good News.
“If I can see it,” the author says, “anybody can see it. And anybody who sees it will never be the same!”
According to his explanation, it is significant that Matthew begins his Gospel with a long list of names: the family tree of Jesus. It is significant for two reasons: first, because of the emphasis on names; second, because it says that every person in the ancestry of Jesus contributed in some way to what he was as a human being.
What’s in a name?
Our name points to our person. It says who we are, not what we are. Matthew, by starting the good news about Jesus with a list of names, tells us from the beginning that our focus should be on relationship with Jesus as a person. What he is, and what he came to do, is important. But most important is who he is: who he is for us and who we are for him; the relationship we have and can develop with him.
Dealing with Jesus as the “who” he is changes the “who” that we are. As persons, we become different by interacting personally with the person of Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.
Religion is all about relationship. Relationship is all about interaction. The Christian religion is all about interacting with the Father, the Son, and the Spirit as persons.
It is perfectly acceptable to interact with God in his “professional” capacity as Creator, Lawgiver, Provider, and Protector. And we can interact with him more deeply, adoring him as the One infinite Being who is all Truth, Goodness and Beauty. But we do not enter fully into the Christian life until we interact with God intimately and personally as Father, Son, and Spirit.
For Christians, Father, Son, and Spirit are names that speak of who, not what.
What we are is determined by many things. Who we are is the result of our free choices.
Within the Holy Trinity, the First Person is Father to the Son. In the abstract, that sounds like “what” he is. But there is a huge difference between seeing what the Father is as Father of the Son within the mystery of the Trinity, and seeing who he is for us as our Father by the free choice he is making to share his own divine life with us by grace. That makes him our Father instead of just our Creator. When we, like Jesus (Mark 14:36), say “Abba! Father” (Galatians 4:6), we are speaking of who the Father is for us, not just what. We know the Father as someone who is choosing to be our Father as well as our Creator. How does that change our relationship with him?
The name “Father” speaks to us of a who—a person known by his free choices—not a what. It defines a personal relationship.
The same is true of the Son. When we speak of God the Son, he is never for us just the Son of the Father in heaven; he is the Son who chose to come down to earth to be one of us and to make us one with him. He is the Son in whom, by his free choice and ours, we exist as fillii in Filio, sons and daughters of the Father “in the Son.” He is the Word of God who by free choice became the Word made flesh and dwelt among us. Since the Son of God chose through his Incarnation to make his Father our Father and himself our Brother (John 20:17; Hebrews 2:11)—and the head of the body of which we are members (Romans 12:5; Colossians 1:18)—the name “Son of the Father” tells us who the Son is for us, by his free personal choice, not what he is in the abstract. We relate to him as persons to a person.
The Holy Spirit, also, for us is not a “what” but a “who.” He is not just the “bond of unity” between the Father and the Son in the mystery of the Holy Trinity. He is the Spirit sent to us, and choosing to be sent as “Paraclete,” the one “called to our side,” but in fact choosing to dwell in our hearts. The name “Holy Spirit,” when we use it, refers to a freely indwelling presence, someone interacting with us as a person, a who, not a what.
In our experience of the Spirit, we experience our interaction with all Three Persons of the Trinity acting as persons, acting freely: “Because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6).
All of this sounds pretty abstract. But we would be “dumbing down” our religion if we shied away from the mystery of all mysteries—the Trinity—and the mystery of the way we interact with the Three Persons. Matthew helps by giving us one word to use as a key to open up the mystery. The word is “name.” If we ask ourselves what a name stands for, what it means to reveal our name to someone, and to be on a “first name basis” with God, we begin to understand. By beginning his Gospel with a list of over 50 names, Matthew is making the point that Christianity is all about personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
That is his introduction to the Good News.
(Get this first-hand by reading Why Jesus?, Introduction and chapter one. You can buy the book or download it free .)
Question: Am I on a first-name basis with the Father, the Son, and the Spirit?