READINGS:  Wisdom 11:22-12:1/ 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2/ Luke 19:1-10
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

The main message of today is about God’s mercy and our repentance.  However, because I spoke about this topic on the 24th Sunday (see the homily entitled: ‘Easy Access To Debt Cancellation’), let us reflect on another aspect of the gospel reading: the fact that when Jesus saw Zacchaeus on the sycamore tree he called him by name.

The name ‘Zacchaeus’ means ‘pure’ or ‘righteous’ one.  Yet, Zacchaeus the chief tax collector did not lead a life that corresponded with the meaning of his name.  Collecting taxes for the gentile and oppressive ‘colonial masters’ was seen as a sin of betrayal by fellow Jews; and amassing wealth by ‘over-taxing’ fellow Jews made them dislike tax collectors the more.  So, in a way, when Jesus called Zacchaeus by name, He did so to forgive him and lead him back to his true identity: to become a ‘righteous’ one.

What is your/my name?  To where is Jesus calling and leading us back?  My name is John, which means ‘God’s favour’.  Therefore, Jesus is calling and leading me back to those favours of God I have lost through sin.  What about you?  What is the meaning of your name?

Some African Christians, without making a distinction between biblical/saintly names (on the one hand) and European names that are not associated with any saints (on the other hand), have dropped their baptismal names (e.g. Francis, Cecilia, Peter, Mary), with the protest that these are names of former colonial masters.  May I ask such Christians: do African Moslems drop their Islamic names?

Furthermore, the fact is that when we encounter God we gain a new personality.  Sometimes in the Bible, this new identity is made evident by the giving of a new name: Abram become Abraham, Jacob became Israel, Simon was called Peter and Saul, Paul.  Thus, at baptism, when, through Christ and by the action of the Holy Spirit, we became adopted children of triune God, we were given a new name to signify our new relationship with Him.

Why, then, are some dropping their names which signify their new relationship with God?  Instead of dropping our baptismal names, we should rather live up to what they signify: (a) our relationship with God, (b) the meaning of our names, and (c) the virtues and other good examples of the saints we have been named after.

Ironically, while some Africans have dropped an essential sign of their identification with Christ (namely their baptismal names) in reaction to ‘neo-colonization’, everything else about them shows that they are actually still colonized: their hair styles, the suit they wear in the hot sun, their (imported) shoes – you name them.  These are rather the non-essentials of Christian identity that they should drop and not their baptismal names!

This is, however, not to say that one cannot be baptized with African names like ‘Adom’ (which means grace), ‘Nutifafa’ (peace), etc. These names are Christian virtues or values.  But names like Kojo, Adjoa, Kobina, Abena, etc. only identify the day of the week on which one was born; they do not identify us with Christ!  The situation is even worse when some retain their local names that are associated with idols.

Beloved, as Zacchaeus was called, forgiven and made to live by the meaning of his name, so may we heed the call of Christ to enjoy God’s mercy.  Finally, may the harmony between our names and our lives be an effective testimony of our genuine relationship with Christ.  Amen!

By Very Rev. Fr. John Louis

Bishop John Kobina Louis

Most Rev. John Kobina Louis is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Accra, Ghana. More about him here.

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Catholic Homilies and Sermons for the Liturgical Year by Most Rev. John Kobina Louis, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Accra, Ghana.

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