by Father Mike Stubbs
When we meet someone for the first time, we usually find out their name.
Knowing another person’s name enables us to establish a relationship with that person. Learning the name is a very significant step.
In Sunday’s Gospel reading, Lk 1:26-38, we encounter three persons who will play an important role in the Gospel of Luke. Their names are Jesus, Mary and Joseph. This is the first time that they appear in the Gospel, and the first time where their names are mentioned.
The Gospel reading tells us that the angel Gabriel was sent from God “to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph.” It further tells us that “the virgin’s name was Mary.”
Eventually, the angel announces to Mary that she will bear a son “and you shall name him Jesus.”
Knowing the names of these three holy persons enables us to establish a relationship with them. Knowing the background of their names also enables us to understand them a bit more.
The name “Mary” was fairly common at the time, as it is now. It appears as the name of many other women in the New Testament. For example, we hear about Mary Magdalene (Mk 15:40, 47; 16:9), Mary the sister of Lazarus and Martha (Lk 10:39-42), and Mary the mother of James and John (Mk 15:40).
The name “Mary” derives from the name Miriam, sister of Moses in the Old Testament.
Similarly, the name “Joseph” comes from the Old Testament. One of the 12 sons of Jacob bore that name (Gn 30:24). Through a trick of fate, he was responsible for enabling the Israelites to take refuge in Egypt during a time of famine.
The name “Joseph” was also popular during the time of the New Testament. A member of the Sanhedrin who came from the town of Arimathea was called Joseph (Mt 27:57-60). He arranged to have the body of Jesus buried in his family tomb.
A man named Joseph was proposed as a candidate to take the place of the apostle Judas after he had hanged himself (Acts 1:23). There was also another follower of Jesus named “Joseph” (Mt 13:55).
Like the names “Mary” and “Joseph,” the name “Jesus” was also very popular. To differentiate the son of Mary from others by that name, it was necessary to specify “of Nazareth.”
The Greek form of “Jesus” translates the Hebrew and Aramaic name “Yeshua,” which we usually render in English as “Joshua.”
In Hebrew, that means “God is salvation,” a very appropriate name for the one we hail as Savior of the World.