by Father Mike Stubbs
Jean Valjean, the released convict in the novel “Les Misérables,” proclaims his name, in contrast to the number that his jailors had given him: 24601.
He makes it clear that a name is more than a label to keep track of someone. It captures the person’s essence. It is a means to establish a relationship with that person. Our identity is bound up with our name.
This comes out very clearly in Sunday’s first reading, Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41. In interrogating Peter and the apostles about Jesus, the high priest avoids uttering the name of Jesus.
He says, “stop teaching in that name” and “bring this man’s blood upon us.” But he never mentions the name “Jesus.”
It is almost as though saying Jesus’ name would summon Jesus into their presence. And that is something that the high priest clearly does not want.
Peter and the other apostles have been proclaiming the good news about Jesus. The Holy Spirit has been working miracles to corroborate their testimony:
“Yet more than ever, believers in the Lord, great numbers of men and women were added to them. Thus they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them. A large number of people from the towns in the vicinity of Jerusalem also gathered, bringing the sick and those disturbed by unclean spirits, and they were all cured” (Acts 5:14-16).
These miracles take place on the strength of Jesus’ name. As Peter says to the crippled man who was begging: “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give to you; in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk” (Acts 3:6).
This is why the high priest and the Sanhedrin seek to prevent Peter and the apostles from proclaiming the name of Jesus.
They see the growing popularity of the apostles and the increase in believers. They view this as a threat to their own power and authority.
That is why they haul Peter and the apostles into the court.
Nonetheless, Peter responds, “We must obey God rather than men.”
And Sunday’s reading concludes with: “So, they left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.”