What’s in a Name?
As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea – for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” – Matthew 4:18-19 (NRSV)
For those uneasy about calling themselves Christian, well, Jesus wasn’t so into it either.
Was “Christ” Jesus’ last name? Was he born to Mr. and Mrs. Christ? His actual name, in Hebrew, was Yeshua ben Yusef (Joshua son of Joseph). The honorific title “Christ” from the Greek “Christos” is the translation of the Hebrew word, “Meshiach” (Messiah) which means “anointed.”
Hebrew kings were anointed with oil to designate them as elected by God. We don’t refer to King David as “David Christ,” but we could. Even a gentile ruler, Cyrus, is named as God’s anointed/Christ by the prophet Isaiah.
Like Cyrus the Christ, Jesus the Christ was not anointed with oil. Instead, Jesus was anointed with water and with the Spirit at baptism. Many Christians today refer to baptism as a “christening” in the same Spirit. The word “Christian” means “Little Christ.”
Nevertheless, I’m reasonably certain if Jesus came back today, while he might accept the title “Christ,” he would not identify as a Christian. (If you claim “Christian” for yourself as I do, wonderful! If not, you are still in excellent company.) Jesus wanted, and still wants, people to follow and journey with him. Call it what you want.
The most important thing is not what we call ourselves, it’s what God calls us: “Beloved.” Following Jesus is a path for learning to hear and live that name.
God help me to follow Jesus today. In doing so, however imperfectly, help me to hear your holy name.
Matt Laney is the Senior Pastor of Virginia Highland Church UCC in Atlanta, GA and the author of Pride Wars, a fantasy series published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Young Readers. The first two books, The Spinner Prince and The Four Guardians are available now.