Called By Name

The immediate familiarity between Jesus and his new apostles (and us) shows us the intimate nature of discipleship.

Fr. Hugh Barbour, O. Praem. 1/17/2021 / catholic.com

I have the defect of having a hard time remembering names. This is an aggravating fault, since a priest is expected to call his sheep by name in imitation of the Good Shepherd. I excuse myself by explaining that such an emphasis was placed on making correct introductions when I was a child (almost sixty years ago) that I was sometimes overwhelmed by the fear of getting it wrong and being awkward or offensive; and so the actual name, as opposed to the right order of introductions, was forgotten in the heat of the moment.

Well, excuses aside, I would like to note the refreshing simplicity of the Lord and his disciples displayed in today’s Gospel. There is nothing at all of the etiquette manual in their exchange (not that these manuals serve no purpose, especially in the care of guests, which is a concern often mentioned by Our Lord and in the sacred scriptures).  The Savior begins with an abrupt question that would almost sound rude if we did not know the aftermath. “What are you looking for?” or even, in the original, “What do you want?”

His disciples respond just as directly, “Where are you staying?”—more than implying that they want to visit him, even though they have not yet been invited. No fancy manners here! And Jesus answers, “Come and see.” As in “right now, follow me there.”

The only touch of high manners here is the honorific title rabbi they give him—“teacher.”

This title is the key both to their eager reverence and their familiarity. A teacher of God’s law is one who bestows on his students truths that form their souls. A teacher in Our Lord’s time, or in the time of Socrates or Plato or Aristotle or Abraham or Moses, did not just tell his students to do the assigned reading and spit it back on a test. A teacher was expected to be of such a personal human authority that, like a mother, he could impress on the souls of his students the truths he conveyed in loving speech. This is the Savior of the Gospels.

Yes, the rabbis of old, like preachers of today, make much mention of the texts they have studied, but the impression they make on their hearers is far more potent. For this reason, Socrates even lamented somewhat the invention of writing as a lessening of the intensity of the relationship between teachers and disciples.

(For the especially eager student, check what St. Thomas Aquinas says in his Summa Theologiae about why Our Lord did not leave any writings, and you will see.)

Sure, the rest of us hacks have to write things down (like the names of people we have just met) so as not to forget them, but anyone can see that the direct impression made on the human heart by the live encounter with a teacher is by far the more powerful thing.

That is why children are taught by parents, and friends grow in love and wisdom by conversation.  We all have names given us by God in baptism, and it as individual souls so named that we are most truly and deeply taught. That is why “it is never too late to learn,” as my mother used to say!

What is your name? Say it loud and clear so that I can remember it, but keep in mind that your best name comes from the holy conversation we have together with the Teacher and his followers, whom we can find among our families and friends.

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