In today’s Gospel Jesus is presented as the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep by name. It made me think about the names by which we are called. I’m called not only Marina but have also had other names: Mom, Professor, Rina (a nickname that started when my younger brother couldn’t speak my whole name but that my stepdad used for all my life); or a nickname my husband has for me that goes back to college and would make no sense to anyone else, but always makes me smile. I once heard a released prisoner who gave a public lecture offer up his names: his gang name, his name to his friends, his given name, and his prison number. All these names have different resonances: a loving nickname means something quite different than being treated as merely a number.
Jesus is the shepherd who knows my name, and your name, too. But which name would Jesus use for you? The Gospel suggests that the name Jesus uses for us is our true name, the one that expresses God’s deepest love for us. To me, this “name” is one that is even prior to my given name, perhaps a word only God can speak. It might sound something like, Beloved.
Today we might reflect on the ways that the words God speaks to us in prayer, or in the loving words of the Gospel, or in the loving words of friends or family, including family who may have passed on before us, remind us of God’s naming us and loving us. What are the names and words by which you have known love? What subsists underneath those many names, that is God’s name for you?