by Father Mike Stubbs
Sometimes, an interesting story will lie behind the name of a city. For example, Truth or Consequences, N.M., named itself after a popular 1940s radio and TV comedy program as part of a publicity gimmick.
Lawrence acquired its name from Lawrence, Mass., because of a financial backer who originated from that eastern city.
Those are relatively recent examples. The history behind the name for Jerusalem stretches far back into antiquity. King David captured the city from the Jebusites about a thousand years before Christ. At that time, it was already an ancient city. The name of Jerusalem had been included in an Egyptian list of Canaanite cities that dates back to the early second millennium, nearly a thousand years earlier. When King David took over the city, he did not change its name. Consequently, the name for Jerusalem is at least 4,000 years old.
What does the name “Jerusalem” mean? It is difficult to determine it exactly, but scholars believe that it means “city of Salem.” We should note that when Abraham encounter Melchizedek, in Gn 14:18, Melchizedek is identified as the king of Salem. Some commentators conclude from this that Melchizedek was the king of Jerusalem.
However, a complicating factor enters into the picture. The word “Salem” closely resembles the Hebrew word for peace, “shalom.” In view of that, could the name “Jerusalem” mean “city of peace?”
It is interesting to speculate along those lines. Certainly, the modern city of Jerusalem is in dire need of peace.
In any event, Sunday’s first reading, Bar 5:1-9, addresses that issue. The prophet promises better times for the city. The exiles will return from captivity in Babylonia, leaving misery behind. The prophet assures Jerusalem: “You will be named by God forever the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship.”
Consistently, the Scriptures ascribe great power to a name. The giving of a name does not merely provide a label, a means of identification. The name charts a course for the future. It gives direction and meaning.
In other words, when God renames the city of Jerusalem, God is pointing it to a future of peace, established upon justice.
The theme of glory pervades the reading. The word “glory” occurs six times. At the same time, the reading makes it clear that Jerusalem will find its glory, not in remembering its past, its wonderful history, but rather, in the future. That is the promise which awaits.