11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
One of life’s embarrassments is when you forget someone’s name. You can remember everything about that person - what their favourite food is, their hobbies and passions, quirks and habits… But when you meet them and forget their name, oh, disaster. It is as though the fullness of the relationship is somehow spoiled. Shakespeare quipped: ‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’ We value these letters and symbols so much. Parents fret over what name to give their children; family names are held sacred and handed on to the next generation. To know the name of someone is to have begun something of a relationship with that person. In some cultures, it is considered rude to use someone’s first name unless you are at a certain level of intimacy with them.
In the Gospel, the twelve apostles are named. They are so significant to the story that they are named, yet we are given relatively little else about them personally. What we are presented with is Jesus calling each of them by name. Who are these people? Fishermen, zealots, tax collectors and traitors. A diverse group of misfits named by Jesus with next to nothing else known about them. These names are given to us and what is important for us is the mere fact that Jesus called these followers of his by name. How intimately close Christ must have been to these people to call them by name. God knows who he calls. In baptism we are named. Each of us is called by name. Many of us want to be remembered. We ask ourselves, ‘When I die, who will remember my name? Will it matter?’ But here in the Gospel, we learn that the name we make of ourselves, the status and fame, is less important. What is more important is the One who calls us. He who knows my name calls me. Being called by name denotes a certain kind of relationship. I can confide with Jesus intimately and personally.
Christ experiences the full complexity of the human condition - we are lost, in grief, like sheep without a shepherd. God has compassion for his people. There is a physicality to this relationship. It is not just emotional sympathy or intellectual empathy but a gut wrenching compassion from Jesus which calls for true encounter with the other. ‘Ask the Lord for labourers.’ Christ calls people to physically face and be present in the reality of the world to guide lost sheep back to God. The apostles are named because they were the ones called first and we honour their faith and intimacy with Jesus. We too are called to such a relationship with Jesus. Even Judas was called. No matter what background I come from, I can unite with the faith of the Apostles, to know and love Christ who has called me by my name. He has called me for a purpose. With this name given to me by God, I am called to become who God has named me to be. I no longer live for myself only but for what God has called me to be. If you hear that call, if you recognise the voice of Christ calling you to bring His compassion to others who are lost in the world, don’t ignore it. Christ calls you by name. Follow that Apostolic call.
Fr William Loh, O.P. , Friar of the Dominican Province of the Assumption and chaplain to Monash University.