Do You Sometimes Wish to Change Your Name?

7 July 2009. Tuesday of the 14th Week in Ordinary Time
Genesis 32, 23-33; Psalm 17; Matthew 9, 32-38

The first reading is about Jacob’s encounter with God. After sending his wives, children and possessions across the river, Jacob wrestles with a “man” until dawn. The “man” cannot prevail so he wounds Jacob’s hip, particularly the sciatic muscle. Before Jacob releases the man, he demands for a blessing, but instead he was given a new name. Jacob is now “Israel” meaning the “one who contends with God”. The “man” is eventually identified as God (v. 31). A change of name usually points to the transformation of the person. Thus, the naming of Jacob signifies that his character has been profoundly altered by the struggle. From this moment until his death, Jacob has become a person of integrity and honor.

Our names change in the course of our lives. At a certain point, the people around us call us a different name. In the Philippines, you get a term of endearment when you’re young. That is why it is funny that many of these names prevail even as the person ages. Examples of these are “Nonoy” “Nene” “Baby”; unfortunately they stick. So my brother “Nonoy” as we fondly call him is 34 years old and Baby my sister is 39. But primary school is different. We begin to get called by our real names. So, if someone calls me, Jessel, I know they are my classmates in grade school and high school. The revision points to a change of relationship.

However, every single revision carries with it a struggle. Students “gave up” their social lives to graduate. They squeeze in extra time from work to earn their doctorates. Couples ‘wrestles’ with God whether they are going to settle or to move the marriage date to some other day. Moreover, the additional titles included in our names, give your character a certain bearing. The pivotal experience of Jacob is a reshaping of his life: a reconciliation with his brother and his new life with his family.

The Gospel pushes the idea of the Old Testament to the future. If we are to become shepherd to the sheep in the fold or laborers in the harvest of the Master, we are to “change our names” --- to signify a new person. Many people in the bible changed their names like Jacob to Israel, Simon to Peter, the Rock. Or like Saul the persecutor to Paul the preacher. Traditionally, those who marry change their names to signify a change in status. Even those who have consecrated their lives to God acquire a new name: from Sarah to Sr. Annunciata. Jesuits include a vow name taken from a Jesuit saint.

But the switch to a new person is not easy. People wrestle with God as Jacob struggled with Him. What would wrestling with God include? It will include our questions, all sorts of inquiries, the “whys” and “hows” of our lives. It will include questions without answers like “Why did my father died early?” “Why is my mom suffering from extreme pain? What did she do to deserve it?” It will also include a reconciliation, not just forgiveness in a relationship as Jacob and Esau will be doing in the next part of their story. But it may be a reconciliation of an experience such as tragedy with a belief in God’s love. Part of the struggle is our self-worth or our lack of confidence as Moses who would rather have Aaron to speak in behalf of Yahweh, or the prophets like Isaiah who says I am a person with an “unclean lips” (Isaiah 6,5). Garfield, the Cat, once said, “Why me, Lord?!” All these will include some form of bargaining with God. But in the end, we yield to God, and we ultimately trust him. That is why when we were baptized we bear the name of Jesus. We are not Christians for nothing.

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