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GOD'S SCANDALOUS RESPONSE TO SATAN'S OUTRAGEOUS DEMAND
By RICK LAWRENCE
David C. CookCopyright © 2011 Rick Lawrence
All rights reserved.
"SIMON, SIMON ..."
(Jesus Calls Us by Names)
Where were You
When everything was falling apart?
All my days
Were spent by the telephone.
It never rang.
—From "You Found Me" by The Fray
What have I become?
My sweetest friend ...
If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way
—From "Hurt" by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails
The names we're bound to are far more powerful than we realize....
Not long ago I saw the award-winning and farcical short film Validation—it's about a nondescript man stationed at a nondescript parking-validation kiosk in the nondescript lot below a nondescript building who changes the whole world merely because he understands the profound impact of naming people well. One by one, he greets the parade of lost souls who trudge up to his kiosk with something true and grand about who they are. He studies them closely, sees them well, then quickly projects onto them their forgotten beauty. One is a girl with beautiful eyes, another surely has wisdom beyond her years, still another is far more talented than he's given credit for, and yet another (a bit of a stretch) exhibits remarkable sartorial taste. Each person arrives at the kiosk with a barely detectable pulse—all the life sucked out of them by a world that names them harshly, with systematic and brutal impunity. And each person leaves, moments later, like an inflated balloon, full of their own essence and daring to hope again. It's not long before city leaders, then world leaders, beg the man for private meetings, and his exploits are plastered across newspapers in every country. By describing people as they truly are, not as their interior voices accuse them, he literally breathes life into dead souls.
But not everyone is so receptive. The girl who takes the driver's license photos at the DMV refuses to open herself to the beautiful names he throws at her. And she's offended by his repeated transgressions against the DMV's central rule for license photos: "Absolutely no smiling." She simply won't believe anything—anything—true about herself. Her smile is locked away in a dark cell, and there is no key. She is the rock he crashes his boat into, over and over, until his soul is punctured and he finally sinks into despair.
In the wake of this devastation he loses his own name—hopelessness overtakes him, and he heartily agrees with the cynical voices inside him that rail against the futile way he's lived his life. All of this renders him powerless to name others. The crowds that used to line up at his kiosk disappear, shrinking away from the man's glum new mantra: "This is probably as good as it's going to get for you." He wanders the city, lost and separated from his true identity.
Then, by a fluke, the man begins taking photos of tourists when they ask—and he finds he can't restrain himself from naming their beautiful smiles, their obvious virtues, and their happy fortunes. He rediscovers his soul and begins carrying a camera with him everywhere, stopping to take photos of passersby, treating them as if they are royalty. He asks a ravaged woman, dour and confined to a wheelchair, what makes her happy. "My daughter's smile," she says, smiling for the first time in years. And he snaps her picture. "You have a beautiful smile," he names.
One day, when he's delivering an armful of film to be developed at a one-hour photo shop, he runs smack into the DMV girl of his dreams, the same one whose refusal to smile dismantled his soul. She is snapping passport photos for a long line of takers—and she is smiling and radiant. He watches as she names and "validates" the next person in line. And he is undone again. What could account for this impossible resurrection? She shows him a photo of her mother, explaining that her mother hasn't smiled for years since a devastating accident confined her to a wheelchair. In the photo, she is smiling. He knows the woman well, because he took the first picture of her smile. He looks up with tears in his eyes, and the girl is smiling. And the truth dawns on him. The mother's smile is the redemptive key to the girl's cell door. The girl's smile (and her true identity) walks out of the shadows into the light. She has quit her job to search for him and offer her thanks. Standing there, surrounded by the newly named, she pledges her love and lights his face with her radiance. His naming in her life, like a rushing flood, has finally carved out a new tributary. She is reborn. And she returns the grace by naming the one who has named everyone.
I'm sure the filmmakers had no intention of crafting a contemporary metaphor for the tipping-point encounter between Jesus and Peter in Matthew 16, but that's how God rolls (when the Pharisees, in Luke 19, demand that the disciples stop praising Jesus as their "king," Jesus responds: "I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out" [v. 40]). God will tell His own version of His redemptive story by any means possible. And Jesus names us to redeem us, and, in turn, we name Him:
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it." (Matt. 16:13–18)
The message here is simple and profound—and forgotten, most often:
The names we embrace are the names we become, therefore ... we're in desperate need of a good name.
Jesus will name us as we name Him....
Can You Hear Me Now?
My full name is Richard Allen Lawrence, and even now as I type these three names I can hear my mom's voice, far off but piercing the air, calling me home from my adventures as a boy. You and I know exactly what it means when our moms call us by all three names—we've done something big and bad. If we're lucky, we remember what that big/bad thing is as we huff/puff toward home. If we're unlucky, she will surprise us. One thing is sure, when we're children our moms never treat our formal names casually—they use our full names to get our attention. That's basically the function of our formal names: to rivet our attention.
It's important to remember this as Jesus transitions from His "Servanthood 101" lecture and turns to face Peter. It's a big moment—He needs his friend's full attention. It's time to use his formal name. There are other instances in Luke when Peter is referenced by his formal name, and they are all big moments:
In Luke 5 Jesus climbs into Simon's fishing boat and uses it as a floating platform for one of His first sermons, later directing the incredulous fisherman to drop his nets on a huge catch and calling him into a new occupation—"fisher of men."
In Luke 6 Jesus formally chooses His twelve disciples, including Simon.
In Luke 7 Jesus pulls Simon aside to show him the difference between desperate love and cautious support—he compares the weeping, foot-kissing, perfume-anointing behavior of a forgiven prostitute to the proper formality of Simon and those gathered in his home.
And, finally, in Luke 24 when the disciples have recongregated in Jerusalem to compare notes on whether Jesus had actually risen from the dead, the proof they offer is that He "has appeared to Simon" (v. 34).
Simon's full name is Simon Barjona, or Simon son of Jonah. Leading into His "sifting" revelation, Jesus addresses him by his formal name to capture his attention and communicate an overarching truth: "I know who you are—I know everything about you. And it's time to pay attention to Me." He's reaching Peter at his core by using the name that represents his history on earth—his parents, siblings, occupation, and accomplishments. It's both formal and intimate, the same way an affectionate Jesus, in Luke 10, gently rebukes His good friend: "'Martha, Martha,' the Lord answered, 'you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her'" (vv. 41–42 NIV). With Martha, as with Peter in the upper room, He repeats His friend's name twice to drive home an intimate truth: "I love you, and I have something hard to say to you...." Jesus is establishing an enveloping connection, the kind that's always delivered close in, with direct eye contact.
"Do I have your attention now?"
The man attached to the name Simon Barjona is a fisherman from Bethsaida, called "the fishers town," situated on the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee in the land of Jesus' boyhood. He is the tough and driven owner of a small business at a time when most of the people around him work as slaves. Replace the bumbling, stumbling picture you have of him in your mind with the picture of a man rough and big and calloused and savvy—a man to contend with. A young Clint Eastwood. And on the day he meets Jesus he is, like most small-business owners, hard at work, oblivious to the man he will later die for.
That's when Jesus, pressed to the water's edge by the gathering crowd, jumps into one of two empty boats hauled up on the shore—they are both owned by Simon. So Jesus, already presumptuous in His trespass, asks Simon to jump in with Him and push out into the water. The exhausted man has just finished another grueling all-nighter on the choppy sea, with nothing to show for his dirty, dangerous labor. He must finish washing and mending his nets before he can go home and sleep. The last thing he wants to do is get back in that boat and push out into the water. But he's caught up in the moment and by the crowds and by the invitation. And when Jesus is finished speaking He smiles at Simon, and, like that uncle who loves to amaze your kids with his clever little "magic" tricks, He pulls something out of his hat: "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch" (Luke 5:4). It's not the more cautious "let down your nets" that rouses Simon's ire; it's the "for a catch" chutzpah. "Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but at Your bidding I will let down the nets."
Humor this guy, get Him out of my stupid boat, go home.
It is the perfect, playful miracle. So many fish swarm into Simon's nets that he screams for the crew of the other boat to push out and help with the catch. The nets strain and the boats start to sink under their load. And what is Jesus doing as the fish pour into the boat? Scripture doesn't say, but I imagine His laughter booms and ricochets over the water as He stands, hands on hips, at the back of the boat. It's all play to Him. But it drops Simon to his knees as if he's been shot. He is not a rhetorical man; he's a man who does and does and does—driven by compelling momentum, decisive and forceful. So, while others are marveling at the Man's feat, Simon is groveling at His feet: "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" (Luke 5:8 NKJV). It is the first recorded act of repentance in response to Jesus, and the first in a long string of firsts for Peter. He is ...
the first to be called by Jesus;
the first to follow Jesus;
the first to publicly name Jesus as Messiah;
the first to be renamed by Jesus;
the first (other than Jesus) to walk on water;
the first to use violence to defend Jesus when he draws his sword in the garden of Gethsemane;
the first to walk into Jesus' empty tomb;
the first to reach Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Tiberias after His resurrection;
the first to preach about Jesus in the public square; and
the first to lead the church of Jesus Christ.
These "firsts" define a man used to winning and overcoming—quitting is anathema to him. And that's why every time Jesus talks about His impending death, Simon is the one vigorously protesting. "Jesus killed? Not on my watch...." There's that Clint Eastwood squint. After he names Jesus the "Messiah, the son of the living God" in front of the other disciples, Jesus immediately returns the favor and names him Petros, "the rock," or Peter—it's a Greek word never before used as a name. Soon after, he briefly earns another nickname—"Satan," or the "adversary"—because Peter's fixation on winning blinds him to Jesus' mission and purpose. His moxie is the reason he's chosen, and it's the reason he's about to be sifted.
It's so important to remember the makeup of this man—otherwise, all that happens next is lost on us. "Simon Barjona" represents all the man has been; "Peter" represents all he truly is. One is the name of his first birth; the other is the name of his second birth.
Sitting Bull, Gideon, and a Boy Named Sue
Native Americans most closely resemble the ancient Jews in the way they name their children—they craft names to project more than to reflect. For example, Anaba means "she returns from battle," Oneida means "eagerly awaited," Chesmu means "gritty," and Dyami means "soaring eagle." The Jews do likewise. For example, Jacob means "he who supplants," and he did. Abram means "high father," and he was. Sarah means "princess," and she was. Gideon means "valiant warrior," and he was. Yeshua means "Savior," and, of course, He is.
In the Old Testament book of Hosea, naming is the central theme—it's a parable for what Brennan Manning calls "the furious longing of God." When God commands the prophet to marry a prostitute named Gomer, He also tells Hosea to name two of his children as stand-in symbols of the curse He's put upon all of wayward Israel—one is to be called Lo-ruhamah, which means "she has not obtained compassion," and the other is to be called Lo-ammi, which means "not my people." Then, as a sign and symbol of the redemptive love that will unravel the dire offenses of a people who have rejected Him and played the harlot, God tells Hosea to rename his cursed children. The first becomes Ruhamah, or "she has obtained compassion," and the second becomes Ammi, or "my people." Born under a curse, reborn under a promise. This cycle is the deepest rhythm in Peter's life, and in our own.
Most often, the people you know who've either changed their names or longed to do it are thirsty for a rebirth—a redemption that will help them escape their own private curse.
My wife, Beverly Rose, was named by her mother after her half-sister (Beverly) and her mother (Rose). My wife's grandmother Rose had three children, then divorced their father. Before she remarried, the state sent all three to an orphanage because there was no food in the house when social workers arrived to check on the children. Carmella, Bev's mother, was five at the time. After Rose married again, she and her new husband had two daughters of their own. Carmella lived at that orphanage run by nuns until she was fourteen, when her mother called the nuns and demanded that Carmella get on a train that would bring her to the home that was never her home—that very day. Though she pleaded with the nuns, she was not allowed to go to her eighth-grade graduation party that night; instead, she boarded a train to meet a woman she'd not seen since she was a preschooler. Leaving the only home she knew through a veil of tears, Carmella arrived at her mother's home, feeling like a second-class child—one who was expected to channel Cinderella and serve the family. She was told she was the "lucky one" because her stepfather had agreed to take her in. The class system she then lived under haunted her the rest of her life. And that's why, when she gave birth to her second daughter, she decided to name her "Beverly" as a kind of appeasement to the "gods" who were her half sisters, and she gave her the middle name "Rose" as an offering at the altar of her own mom. This was Carmella's way of trying to win favor with her mother and her half sister—the favor she had never tasted as a free gift. So "Beverly," far from a projection of beauty, was her mom's futile way of bargaining with her half sisters for their love. And Bev, like Lo-ruhamah and Lo-ammi before her, has ever since longed to be free of that curse.
Excerpted from sifted by RICK LAWRENCE. Copyright © 2011 Rick Lawrence. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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