In Jesus’ culture, who you were was largely about who your parents were. Your name, your identity in the world, was your family name, and especially your father’s name.
But it was widely known that Jesus’ father wasn’t Joseph. It meant that Mary his mother faced the possibility of being disowned by a father seeking to protect the family honour. Joseph had a price to pay as well for his refusal to abandon Mary; it’s most likely that his family might disowned him, or he and his wife would have had to stay with extended family for Jesus’ birth.
It also means that Jesus was subjected to whispers in the village until the day he left it. He was called “the son of Mary” (Mark 6:3). Everybody knew that nobody knew who his father was, and everybody knew that Mary’s name was no status symbol, given her pregnancy by someone other than Joseph. “That young man will come to no good,” people murmured as Jesus walked past, “no family, no honour.” His parents’ iniquities would be visited upon him, and his name was mud.
And yet this Sunday, when we remember his naming, is the Feast of the Holy Name. God gave him “the name that is above every name,” God gave Jesus the name that is above every name because Jesus, the most powerful person on earth, didn’t exploit that power to try to seize the throne. He didn’t seek the company of the powerful, but he used his power to exalt the powerless, restoring the outcast to community and ascribing dignity to those the world despised. He met them with compassion born of experience, because he shared their name in other’s eyes.
God exalted him, lifted him up, and Jesus lifted up his sisters and brothers among the despised. Jesus carries the name at which every knee should bow, but he teaches his followers that they will find and serve him by seeking and serving those furthest from the center of power — the sick whose illnesses render them impure, the prisoners literally barred from community, the poor beggars outside the city gate.
That’s the heart of why we call him the Son of God: because Jesus does what his Father does, and Jesus’ words and example, his life and his death, taught us that his Father, the God of Abraham and Sarah, of Isaac and Rebecca and Rachel, is always at work on the margins. God looks at those whose name is mud and calls them his own beloved child, made in his image and deserving the reverence that comes from being mindful of that.