A rose by any other name.
Don't take the name in vain.
O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name.
Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy:
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand nor foot
Nor arm nor face nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O be some other name.
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
—William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
When we read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in high school, our teacher wisely let us discuss the meaning of that passage amongst ourselves. Most of us were confused because the word “wherefore” seems like a question of where. And why would Juliet be wondering where Romeo was? She knew.
“She’s not asking where he is,” our teacher eventually explained, reminding us that at the core of the story was the conflict between the Capulets and the Montagues. “She’s asking why his last name had to be Montague.”
Basically, why did your name have to be Romeo?
As I read through the Bible this year, the last month or so has been in the Old Testament prophets, and in much of it God makes it clear that his anger against Israel is because they sinned and did evil and didn’t keep the covenant.
Because of that, and because of God’s name, he must punish them just as he must keep his covenant with them despite the punishment.
God’s name is holy and just, because he is holy and just. He keeps his promises, both the good and the bad, both the judgment and the redemption, because it is who he is. His name is who he is.
What’s in a name?
Juliet says that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. That is true. But there is something unique about God’s name. His name is particular, is important. He cannot be called anything else. He cannot be attributed with other qualities. His entire encompassing nature cannot be compartmentalized, making, for example, Jesus to only be the Lamb of God instead of also the fierce Lion of Judah.
“Don’t take the name of the Lord your God in vain” isn’t about dropping F-bombs. (There are other verses that cover that.) It’s about taking on God’s name as his child and then living a life that puts that name in the mud and filth.
The Christian who behaves just like the unsaved, coasting on cheap grace and the idea of “once-saved-always-saved.” The Christian who quotes scripture and lectures people on morality while having chaos and rage thrive in their own lives.
We take God’s name in vain, like Israel did, and because of Jesus’ blood, think it’s no big deal.
Growing up, my family’s name meant something. We were honest, we worked hard, we didn’t work on Sundays, we went to church a lot, we didn’t go to the local bar, we didn’t cheat, we were dependable. We weren’t popular. We cared about our community, we helped people if they needed it. We might have been easy marks for those intending to take advantage. We weren’t perfect (had some boffo mistakes made by my generation) but I think, if you’d ask people about the Neidlingers, they might have good things to say.
The name Neidlinger, in my community, meant something. There weren’t many Neidlingers left by the time I showed up, and in previous generations, that name had other meanings thanks to the lives of those who came before and how they lived.
But in my lifetime, it had a good meaning.
Then, that changed. And I understood why God cares about taking his name in vain.
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