Bearing the Word

Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 9:10-17; Text for Sunday, May 5, 2019

Saul will ‘bring my name’ to many, the Lord tells Ananias, who is reluctant to go to this man who has persecuted many who ‘invoke’ the name of the Lord.  Called upon in vision by that Lord, Ananias is taken aback, wonders if perhaps the Lord needs reminding of who Saul is, based on who Saul has been. 

‘Go,’ the Lord repeats.  ‘For he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people Israel.’  And in faithful duty, Ananias goes.  

Bringing the name.  Usually I read this and think of the work as verbal.  Something Saul is to say.  It is not only that I have in mind Saul’s later career — as he declares and proclaims and instructs and writes letter after letter — it is that speech seems implicated even in this particular passage.  The saints are those who (literally) ‘call upon’ the name of the Lord.  Ananias goes and speaks to Saul of the Lord Jesus, the one who had appeared to each of them.  To bring the name then is to say it, to utter words, or write them on flimsy slips of paper, or even cast them into the ether online.

But Saul is not literally to ‘bring’ Christ’s name. Saul has been chosen to ‘carry’ — bastazw — the name.  As one may ‘carry’ a pair of sandals (Matt 3:11), a jar of water (Mark 14:13), a purse or bag (Luke 10:4), or a cross (Luke 14:27).  

As a womb may carry a child (Luke 11:27).

Saul is not just to tell but to bear the name of the Lord. 

Now I hear the work differently.  It is more than the gusting of windy words — spirit-filled as they may be.  It is a tangible substance, with a palpable weight.  

Sometimes bearing it is a burden.  Shoulders sag; knees bend; back and mind and heart grow weary with the load.  Acknowledge this.  That a call to bear the name is a call to suffering:  the suffering of one who must encounter as brother an erstwhile enemy; the suffering of one who must go among strangers and love them as kin while counting his kin as strangers, leaving them to the care of the Lord.

And then comes the feeling that the weight may not be a chore but a foundation, a sturdy structure on which to stand, even a rod that stiffens the spine and lifts the chin and steadies the gaze.  That to bear the name is not to heft a heavy load but — to borrow the old rabbinic image — to be lifted by a pair of wings.

To bear the name of the Lord is to bear the life of the word within your own body, to give your own and only life to its nurture in the womb and in the world.  To know that life and body together are marked by the encounter with the name.  There was a before when I bore only myself, or so I imagined.  Now I bear the name … and reshaping my life around its substance, I find myself borne.

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