A Name For Freedom
Mary: Well, yes, in fact, the old psalms are justified in saying that one goes away with sadness, and comes back rejoicing. Because, look, Joseph and I were protesting our journey to Bethlehem, complaining about the hassle of that census. Then, on our way back to Nazareth, we were so delighted with our new bornson whom we carried in our arms…!
There were a few days left before the Pentecost, the great feast of the harvest. Seated on the floor in the upper floor of Mark’s house, we all listened to Mary, Jesus’ mother, as she went on with her reminiscences, sharing with us the first memories of her son’s life…
Mary: Oh, you should have seen the excitement in the whole village when we arrived. Well, they were excited over the boy, who had no name yet, as he had not been circumcised….
Anne: Oh, what a cute little darling! Hey, men, look at this fat and rosy little angel… lalarin…!
Joachim: Well, I find him a little skinny, don’t you think, Anne?
Anne: But, what do you expect, Joachim? He’s just a week old, mind you, and you expect him to be as stocky as Samson? Now, we’ve got to nourish him…. Mary, my dear, you must give him a lot of your milk first, after which a lot of chick peas will do him good.
Joachim: Put him under the sun, it’s good for the boys!
Anne: Where did you get such an idea, Joachim? What a brute! How can you put a fragile little creature under the sun? And besides, what do you need that for, he’s already brown like toasted bread from the oven! Oh my, I love children of this color, not the ones that are white as snow! Oh, my cute and handsome moreno, give your grandma a little kiss!… C’mon…!
Mary: My parents were so happy and proud of their grandson. My neighbors just had to come to congratulate us and to pry into the boy’s looks and find out whom he took after, for reasons you already know…
Jack: Lemme take a look at my little countryman, and see how good-looking he is…!
Susana: How dare you Jack! You’re pushing too hard…! Well, my compadres, by what name will you be calling this cherubim? What do the grandpa and grandma say?
Anne: I don’t know what the grandpa has to say, but last night, I dreamed of a beautiful, white dove, flying down from heaven…
Jack: …and he was carrying an olive branch in his beak, as the story goes….
Anne: Well, I really don’t know if he was carrying an olive or marjoram, all I know was the dove was flying, then perched on the head of the boy.
Neighbor: What’s the meaning of that dream, Madam Anne?
Anne: Look, had this child been a girl, as it was my wish, we would call her Paloma….
Jack: He was born a boy, so…. Palomino!
Joachim: Not Paloma nor Palomino!… No way!… I say that the children should follow the good path of the parents… or of the grandparents.
Susana: Which means, Joachim wants the baby to be called like him….
Jack: Yeah, man, and let the boy acquire a little of his “stinginess.” I mean, his honesty…!
Neighbor: If you’d allow me, and knowing we are in bad times, I’d put a Roman name… something like Julius… or Aurelius…. Say what you want, but in this way, when they begin to destroy us, they may probably get confused, and so, he might be spared….
Jack: Hey, shut up, you cowardly traitor! Don’t count on that, because the moment they draw their swords, not even God will be saved. No, no, nothing of the Roman names. I’ve got a better idea. Why don’t we call him…. Casimiro.
Susana: What’s that again?
Joachim: And may I know, Jack, why that very weird name?
Jack: Well, oh… Ca-si-mi-ro…. I’ve been looking intently, but I have yet to “see” who the father of this creature is!
Mary: When Jack spoke with such impertinence, Joseph leaped at him like a mad dog….
Joseph: I’ll break your neck!… I’ll strip you naked!…
Man: Pull them apart! Pull them apart!
Anne: To hell with these men! You’ve got no respect for women who’ve just given birth! Get out of here, all of you!… Out, out!… You may visit another time… my daughter is exhausted from the trip… it’s been only a week since she’s given birth!
Joachim: That’s precisely what I’ve been pondering about, woman. Tomorrow is her eighth day and nothing has been done yet…. Hey, Joseph, what do you say?… C’mon, man, forget about Jack’s stupid remark. He’s not worth your time…
Anne: As Joachim has said, instead of gossiping, you should be starting to work. C’mon, ladies, give me a hand in the kitchen. And Mary, my dear, get yourself some sleep.
Joachim: Right now, I’m going to inform the Rabbi. Tomorrow, this little moreno has to be circumcised. And, whatever his name is, what is important is that very soon he’ll be one of the children of Abraham.
Mary: With all the preparations for the celebration, Joseph eventually cooled off. The following day, the eighth, was the circumcision, according to our custom. The whole of Nazareth was there, of course. They came to greet us and also to try the doughnuts with honey that Mother had prepared…. The house patio was filled with our neighbors…. Joseph had also adorned the walls with flower garlands. He also invited two old neighbors to play the drums…
Neighbor: Here comes the Rabbi! Hey, tell the mother to get ready!
Susana: Mary, Mary!
Joachim: They’d better prepare the boy, who’ll receive the incision.
Mary: During that time, Rabbi Manasseh still had all his teeth and good vision and he spoke beautifully of the things about God…
Everyone in Nazareth loved him a lot. In the small synagogue of the village, he taught the children how to read. He was the only one who could remember the ancestors of each family in the town…
Rabbi: Peace be with you all!
Several: And also with you, Rabbi!
Rabbi: Pfff… What a hot day…!
Joachim: C’mon, Manasseh, have a drink first, to refresh you, before you speak….
Rabbi: Thanks, Joachim…. Ahhh…. Well, let’s start…. Where’s the little boy?
Anne: One moment, Rabbi, we’re changing his clothes…. My God, this baby is always wet!
Mary: Soon, I came out with the baby in my arms….
Susana: Good health to the boy and to his mother who brought him into this world!
Mary: I sat down on a bench, at one corner of the patio, and gave him my milk to silence him, so that the Rabbi could speak…
Rabbi: Well, dear neighbors, today is a happy day for everyone, isn’t it? From now on, we shall have another star in the sky and another grain of sand in the sea, as God had promised Abraham. This boy, the son of Mary and… well, let’s not talk about it now. This boy, as I was saying, will be an addition to the chosen people of God. As you all know, the God of Israel had made an alliance with our forefathers. That was several years ago. Since then, with no exception, all the Israelites have in our flesh the mark of this alliance. Now, we have to circumcise this new-born child, that he may be called son of Abraham, too.
Mary: I stood up and delivered the boy to the Rabbi who carried him and put him on his knees covered with a white cloth…
Rabbi: Okay, bring me the knife…. And you, little boy, don’t protest and be a brave little man!
Mary: Joseph passed a flint knife to the rabbi who very carefully cut a piece of skin covering the penis of the boy…. The towel was drenched with blood…. Then the rabbi drew his mouth close to the wound and firmly sucked it to contain the blood…
Rabbi: Okay, it’s over…
Mary: Then he wrapped the small wound with a clean cloth. Jesus was crying very hard….
Rabbi: And you, young women, keep that little skin, as you know, there is no better medicine for the barren…!
Mary: Come now, my dear boy, it’s all over… C’mon… You’ll get well soon…. Come now….
Rabbi: By the way, you haven’t told me his name!
Anne: Well, Rabbi, I told them to put the name….
Joachim: It’s okay, Anne. This is not your problem. There’s nothing to discuss here. You have the final word, Joseph.
Mary: Joseph moved forward with a big smile, wet his fingers with the blood from the boy’s wound….
Joseph: He shall be called… Jesus.
Mary: And with the blood he wrote the letters of the name of Jesus on the angular stone of our house….
Rabbi: Jesus!… What a beautiful name…. So, you’ll be called: Jesus, which means Liberator!… Neighbors: this little boy has been circumcised as God has wanted it and he has a name, a name for freedom! Now, my children, sit down and listen to me. Every time we repeat the sign of alliance, we must also recall to mind the history of those who had sealed it with the same tradition. And you, snotty-nosed, you little kids, open your ears, for someday you will have to tell everything to your children and grandchildren, and explain to them where we came from and who we are….
Mary: Everyone sat in squatting position, surrounding the rabbi, Manasseh, who looked at us with eyes seemingly lost in memory….
Rabbi: Look, my children, it all started in the country of the Chaldeans, with Abraham, that old shepherd whom God had called and promised a son. Sarah, his wife, who was also well past her youth and her childbearing age, just laughed it off. That’s why, when a son was born to them, they named him Isaac. Isaac, which means, “the son of laughter,” later married Rebekah and bore a son, Jacob, the father of the twelve children who populated this earth. One of them, Judah, got himself involved with a certain Tamar, who was somewhat of a hooker. Well, after all, not everyone in our country is clean. Tamar bore Perez, who bore Ezron. Ezron sired Aram, who sired Aminadab, who was the father of Nasor, who was the father of Salmon. Salmon also got himself entangled with a so-called Rahab, who was a real prostitute. But God does His things, because, she bore Boaz who consoled Ruth, the Moabite. So here you have a foreigner. I’m saying this for those who pride themselves to be of pure race… Well, going back to Ruth, I was saying that she bore Obed, who was the father of Jesse and the grandfather of the great King David, blessed be his name!
All: Blessed be his name!
Rabbi: Well, my children, the paths of God are rugged, because look, David was a great warrior, a very brave man… but with just one weakness: women. He had an affair with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. Out of that sin was born no less than the wise man, Solomon…. That’s why, don’t lose hope, Mary. God will figure out something great with your son, whoever has sired him…. Ehem…. Well, to continue with our family history…. Solomon had a son, Roboam, (Rehoboam) who had a son, Abijah, who had Asa. Asa sired Josaphat who sired Joram, who in turn, sired Uzziah. Uzziah sired Jothan, who sired Ahaz. Ahaz had Hezekiah, who had Manasseh, who had Amon, who had Josiah, and who had Jeconiah… Ahh…
Neighbor: Wait a minute, not so fast, Rabbi….
Rabbi: ….and the children of Jeconiah went to settle in Babylon.
Anne: Well, let’s have some rest in Babylon. Come and have a little drink to warm us up…
Rabbi: Thank you my dear, thank you…. Ahh…. Well, where were we, huh? Oh yes. We were talking about Jeconiah. It turned out that after undergoing difficulties, working in the canals of Babylon, our ancestors finally returned to this land of promises. Then, Jeconiah sired Shealtiel, who sired Zerubbabel, who sired Abiud. The latter was the father of Eliakim who had a son named Azor, who was the father of Zadoc, the father of Ackim, who was the father of Eliud. And you know the rest, because Eliud became the great grandfather of Jacob, the father of Joseph, passing through Eleazar and Mattan, may they rest in peace. Then Joseph, the son of Jacob, married Mary, the third of the daughters of Joachim, and who is the mother of this “morenito” whom we have just circumcised today, and named Jesus.
Susana: My gosh, Rabbi, what a memory you’ve got! May God bless you!
Rabbi: My dear, may the Lord bless us all, specially this little creature…. Now, Joseph, take the boy…. In the name of the community, I now deliver this little Israelite to you….
Mary: Joseph went near the rabbi, took the boy with his strong and calloused hands and raised him before everyone… I remember, it was noontime and the sun was shining bright…
Joseph: Jesus, my son, now you won’t understand what I tell you, because you’re still a baby… Your mother and I have given you a name by which you shall always be called. Never forget what we expect of you. Jesus, may you be a free man… that you may help our people obtain their freedom!
Mary: Joseph gave me the boy and went back to our neighbors. He was radiant with joy…
Joseph: And now, let’s all sing and dance! Play the flutes and beat the drums!
Anne: Right, go on with the celebration, but this little creature should have his milk, after the butchering they’ve done to him! Isn’t that right, sweetheart?
Mary: And while the neighbors were feasting, I sat on the bench with Jesus. Yes, it was true, from Joseph’s family tree, came a shoot, a new bud from the roots of our people…. A child had been born, a son had been given to us…. And he was called: Wonderful, Counselor, Almighty God, Faithful Father, Prince of Peace.
The circumcision consisted of cutting off the skin (a tissue covering the penis). This was done with a sharp stone knife. This custom had been and still is being practiced in many countries. It is possible that Israel learned this from Egypt in the beginning of their history as a people. Until now, the Jews continue with this practice. In several countries, circumcision is done during adolescence, as a rite of initiation to sexual life. In Israel, especially, it is a symbol of the alliance made between God and the people and it is an indication that the Israelite becomes part of the community.
For Israel, and for all the countries in the Orient, as well as for the majority of the ancient cultures, the name is not only what distinguishes a person from another, but it is an essential element of the most profound personality of the individual. The name makes the person, shows their identity and their destiny. For this reason, giving the boy a name was of enormous significance. It was not just a simple routine, nor a purely, social procedure. This manner of understanding what the name really is, explains the reverence by the Israelites for the simple act of pronouncing the name of Yahweh, the name of God. They believed that, in a way, the name represents what the name says of the person bearing it. It was also understood that calling another person by his name was a sign of familiarity. That is why the name was never mentioned at the start of a relation, until such time when there was already a certain degree of knowledge and affection. It was also believed that he who knew the name of another person had power over him. When God revealed His name to Moses, He was revealing who He is. And when, in the last book of the Bible, he promised us a “new name” for the Kingdom of God (Rev 2:17). He is telling us that we shall be “new people.” Then and only then shall we become who we really are.
The children in Israel were given names that were profane or religious in nature. The former would be names of animals (Rachel = sheep), (Deborah = bee), names of things (Rebekah = ribbon), names that would indicate the joy of the parents for their child (Saul = the desired one), (Noemi = my delight), names that made reference to a quality of the child (Ahab = like the father), (Esau = hairy), (Salome = sane). The religious names combined various words to show how the parents who were believers represented the relationship that God would have with the child or what they expected God to do for him. These are names recognizing the act of God (Jeremiah = God consoles), showing gratitude (Matathias = gift of God), proclaiming how God is (Eli = God is great), etc. These names, used for centuries by the people of Israel, very well express the faith of the community and that of the individual persons.
Jesus is the Greek form of the name in Hebrew which sounded like “Yeshua.” Before, it had the primitive form “Yehoshua.” It means “God liberates.” It was one of the most popular names among the Israelites for centuries. It was also used by Joshua, the leader who replaced Moses after his death and who entered the Promised Land with the people. The author of the book “Sirach,” Jesus Ben-Sira had it. Many other known and unknown Israelites had this name. In Jesus of Nazareth, the name indicates his mission of liberation. Through his word, his life and above all, his death and resurrection, God liberates us from all forms of slavery. For about five hundred years before Jesus, after the period of the exile, the ability to show that one was a true Israelite was gaining importance in Israel. During the exile, there were a number of marriages among the pagans, and upon their return to Palestine it was considered that only those with clean ancestors could be the basis for the reconstruction of their devastated country. And so, the use of genealogical trees was being imposed. In general, all Israelites knew their ancestors several generations back. Nevertheless, in order for marriage to take place – especially if solemnized by a priest – there ought to be some written proofs that the genealogy was pure, at least for five generations. Likewise, candidates for public posts ought to present proof of legitimacy of their origin. It is therefore not strange that Matthew as well as Luke were consistent in their gospel about the genealogy of Jesus. Luke does it, starting from Jesus upwards, until Adam. Matthew presents it inversely, starting from Abraham. Through genealogy, each Israelite family showed to which of the twelve tribes their lineage belonged, to which branch of the people of God their family was related. The relationship with the tribe of Judah paved the way for a number of genealogical trees. Furthermore, within the tribe of Judah was that of the family of David. This is understandable, because he was the king who highlighted the history of their people. Until about a hundred years before Jesus, the civil leader of the Senate was always chosen from the members of this family. On the other hand, the Messianic hope was linked to the descendents of the family of David, and whoever was related by blood to his royal family sought to flaunt such a distinguished origin. In Jesus’ time, the descendents of David’s family within the tribe of Judah were abundant.
Matthew, as well as Luke, wrote about the genealogies to establish the relationship of Jesus to the family of David, thus giving a “historical” proof that he was the Messiah. Said genealogy was always established in relation to the ancestors of the father and not of the mother. It was Joseph, then, who belonged to the family of David, and not Mary. These two genealogies shown in the gospel find parallelisms from the patriarch Abraham to King David, but after this point, they become different. Matthew continues this through Solomon, and Luke, through Nathan. The two were sons of David. We again find parallelisms in some aspects. Nevertheless, we must not look for information that is exactly historical in all the ancestors of these genealogies. There are errors and omissions in them. And in theology as well. Even in the number of generations that are counted, there are numerical symbols. It’s the particular style of the evangelists, who, more than making history the way we understand it today, were more concerned with providing a catechesis to their lectors.
The genealogy presented by Matthew is the one followed by Rabbi Manasseh in this episode. Basically, he aims – and this coincides with that of Luke – to show that Jesus is not a Messiah who came down from heaven, a stranger to history. Jesus was a man who was part of the history of the people of Israel, and through these people, he was in solidarity with the history of mankind. Like each one of us, through the family, through some of our ancestors, through a town, a nation, we form part of the immense family that is humanity. It is important to point out that Jesus was an Israelite, a Jew; and therefore, all hatred for the Jews, all disdain for this race, all criticisms against the traditions of these people boomerang on Jesus himself, on Mary, Joseph, the apostles and practically on all the people that we come to know through the Bible.
In Matthew’s genealogy several women appear (none in Luke’s). In doing this, as in including other ancestors, Matthew is doing history and theology at the same time. Jesus appears as a member of an “impure” history, in relation to race, blood and origin. There are foreigners and women of “questionable” morality.... Jesus’ ascendency starts with Abraham, a converted idolater, and passes through all types of social classes: patriarchs, nomads, slaves in Egypt, kings, soldiers, people without category, Tamar – an astute and bright woman – (Gen 38:6-26); Ruth, the foreign migrant (book of Ruth); Rahab, the prostitute (Jos 2:1); Bathsheba, an adulteress with David (2 S 11:4)... A history filled with loopholes, “smears,” and pitfalls. That was the story of Jesus, much like the story of each one of us. There is, therefore, no “blue blood” in Jesus, even if he was descended from the royal family of David, but red blood instead, of the most ordinary of all mortals.
(Mt 1:1-17; Lk 2:21; 3:23-38)