Jesus, Yeshua, Josh: It's All Grace
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
The Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus
Scripture: Philippians 2:5-11
Today is the feast day of the Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s actually a Jewish celebration. After all, Jesus was born and died a Jew. To this day, many Jews around the world celebrate the naming of their child eight days after they’re born. Traditionally, this ritual was only for boys and they were circumcised as a sign of welcome into the covenant. This is still the tradition, though in reformed Judaism the naming ritual is also performed for girls on the eighth day. So on this day, we celebrate with Joseph and Mary the naming and circumcision of baby Jesus, welcoming him into his Jewish community, into the covenant of his people.
We hear in the readings today,
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.
But the truth is, Jesus was a very common name in Palestine when he was born. The Romanized version of his name was Yeshua, which means “God rescues” or “God delivers.” Today, we would say Joshua. In fact, in the Greek translation of the Bible, the name for Joshua in the Hebrew Bible is the same as Jesus in the gospel—Iēsoûs. The name Jesus with a J did not enter into the Christian tradition until 1769 when a group of English Protestants fled to Switzerland and translated the Bible into their own vernacular.
It’s still a common name. Like I said, the name of all the Joshes you know derive from the same name as Jesus. Jesús is still a common boy’s name in Spanish-speaking countries. And there are probably tens of thousands of Yeshuas in the world today— mostly Jewish. Even some girls are named Yeshua these days.
This is all to say, Jesus Christ could have easily been Josh Christ. Or Jack Christ. Or Kathy Christ. After all, the name Jack means “God is gracious.” Kathy, or Katherine, means “pure.” Both in line with who Jesus was when he was here with us.
I like this about Jesus. I like that an angel came down from heaven and basically said to Mary, “Name him Josh.” To me, it emphasizes the Emmanuel aspect of Jesus: God with us. Not only in our frail and mortal flesh, but also in his very common name.
This is no abstract God who is fire and called “I am,” which is another wondrous and beautiful manifestation of our Trinity, a mystery that allows us to engage the mystery of our own existence. This is Josh. Born a naked, crying baby. Like each of us was. Formally welcomed and named on this day by his small, very particular community. A boy raised by people who loved him—as I hope each of us were. A man who would develop deep friendships and who would also be betrayed—as each of us has been at some time or another. A person who would struggle with living out his call and faith—as we all do sometimes.
Of course, we discover later that there was more to Jesus than anyone knew. He could heal those suffering in both body and mind. He could feed thousands with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. He could even bring back to life those who had been dead for days.
He was human, yes, but also the Word made flesh. One who would die because of the small minds of humans then defeat death to bring hope to those same humans.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, today’s epistle to the Philippians says.
Now I know that none of us can raise the dead or heal the sick with just a few words.
But at the heart of everything Jesus did was grace. He didn’t determine if someone was worthy before he was willing to heal them, he didn’t make anyone promise that they would repay the miracle with their own good works. Jesus trusted that his deeds, his acts of love were in and of themselves bringing God’s kingdom on earth. He lived love without expectation of that love being returned, he indiscriminately and unconditionally gave people new life.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. We may not be able to turn a small basket of food into a feast for thousands or turn water into wine, but we—the Joshes of the world—can live God’s grace. We can offer our gifts and our love trusting that those gifts and that love are in and of themselves bringing God’s kingdom on earth, whether or not people are deserving of them, no matter how people receive them.
Grace is where the God who is the mysterious I Am meets human flesh, human frailty, human love. Grace is where the Jesus who would be crucified and resurrected meets Josh who ate and drank and laughed with friends.
Which means grace is the miracle we can perform. And in this world, grace is miraculous.