Mark 1:21-28 | 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
The Power of a Name
With our first child, my husband and I spent hours and hours choosing a name. I’d toss out one suggestion after another, and we debated each in detail. We repeated the whole process with baby number two. Names are such a crucial part of our identity, part of who we are as a person, that we wanted just the right one.
Not only are names integral to our identity, they also represent power, a certain level of intimacy and connection. When someone knows our name, they know something about us—we feel seen by them. That’s why teachers work to learn the names of their students early in the year so students to know they are seen as a valuable member of the class. But names can also be used manipulatively—junk mail, even addressed to a specific person, is just that, junk.
The people of Jesus’s era also realized the power inherent in a name. After all, God Himself was the one who named both John and Jesus. The angel told Zechariah, “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John” (Luke 1:13), and it isn’t until Zechariah wrote the name the angel gave the child on a tablet that he was finally able to speak again (vs. 62-63). Similarly, Gabriel told Mary, “Behold, you will…bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus” (v. 31). God wasn’t going to leave something as important as these names to mere mortals!
So, in Mark 1:24, when the evil spirits address the Teacher in the synagogue, they use His name to try to subdue Him: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” The implication is that they are so powerful they know His name, they claim they “know who” He is, that He is “the Holy One of God.”
We often feel the same when we are tempted. “Spirits” seem to know our name. They certainly hit our weak spots every time. Procrastinate on an important task and…a whole list of lesser jobs springs into focus. Try to eat healthier and…the neighbor brings over a plate of just-from-the-oven cookies. Plan to get up earlier and…have a really bad night’s sleep. And the list goes on.
But, evil spirits are like junk mail. With a simple rebuke, Jesus overpowered them. “Quiet! Come out of him!” The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him” (vs. 25-26). As the others at the synagogue realized that day, just to know Jesus’s name isn’t proof that we understand His true identity. They wondered, “What is this? A new teacher with authority…” (v. 27) and they would spend the next three years learning the depth of His name.
He “who knows every hair on our heads” (Luke 12:7) has also “called us by name.” Unlike junk mail, He claims us; “You are Mine” (Is. 43:1). He wants nothing more than for us to use His power to harness our good to fight wherever evil spirits lurk.