Letters to Peregrinus #43 - On the Name Above All Names

The Good Samaritan (1838)[1] by Pelegrin Clavé y Roqué (1811-1880)
Dear Peregrinus (Monday PM, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary):

I am writing to you from inside a wondrous autumn afternoon, which the Pacific Northwest offers us each year, a gift of too few such days with respect to our desire for many of them. I look up today and behold that which Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ (1844-1889 - 45 years old)[2] called “a sweet and scar-less sky.”[3]

And earlier today I heard from my first (I dare not say “oldest”) sibling, Carol (with her husband Rick), who prayed for me at the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary at Fatima, in Portugal. Within an hour of receiving her text from there, either before or after, I had sent me by the last of my siblings, Mark (with his wife Leslie), a photograph of Leslie lighting a candle for me at the great Cathedral of San Marco in Venice, Italy. These prayerful remembrances came to me on this annual feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary. I am so grateful for my siblings.

The Gospel we heard at Mass today was the famous Parable from Luke 10, a painting of which I have included above for you to study. This Parable is most typically (always?) referred to as “The Good Samaritan”. I have thought a lot about this text recently and wanted to share with you my “work in progress” on it.

But as I do, don’t forget how much I value your often startling insights into biblical texts, especially ones that have become so famous, and that are so often quoted, that mostly we have lost our ability to hear them freshly, or to read them attentively.

What do you think of that title for the Parable – “the Good Samaritan”? The biblical scholars who place the titles[4] over each discrete pericope[5] in the Scriptures too often in my view give titles that misdirect our attention, causing us not to notice what we are meant to notice. Names and titles have an often overlooked capacity to catalyze our misunderstanding more than our understanding.

For example, “The Good Samaritan” title directs us to give most of our attention to that remarkable Samaritan – and he is remarkable (though Jesus would very likely say of him not that he is remarkable, but that he is a truly normal man.)[6] We are directed to conclude that the Parable is about him. I am convinced that we make a mistake when we think so.

A central reason why we judge that Samaritan “good” is that his attention was not on himself (“Look at how charitable I am!”) but on the man abandoned and nameless, for whom, unlike the other two on the road, he felt an overmastering compassion.

A good Samaritan would never desire a Parable to be told about him. Why? Because goodness in a person seeks to compel others to love what he or she loves, to see what he or she sees, and to go with him or her there. The good Samaritan wants the nameless one in the ditch to be the one we notice, the one about whom we wonder, the one for whose sake we go towards him with help in our hands.

Luke 10: 30 Jesus replied, “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. [7]

What particularly characterizes this Parable is how Christ labors to teach His hearers how to recognize what kind of person they habitually[8] fail to notice, or to activate their interest in recovering themselves from a habitual deadening of feeling for people right in front of them who are nameless, shattered by life, lost, tossed aside, or who are just too uninteresting to us.
Jesus wants us to see that nameless man, and with the good Samaritan, to go towards him. Why? Because Christ, the Teacher, is that man. (See in a moment what our painting reveals.) This is the point of the Parable. The good Samaritan proves himself the “neighbor”, but the nameless man reveals himself to be Christ disguised.

Matthew 25: 35 hFor I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ [9]

Do you remember those justly famous “Servant Songs” of Isaiah, [10] the fourth of which includes these verses given below? Jesus identified Himself, and especially during His Passion and Death, with “the Servant” of these Songs:

Isaiah 52:

Who would believe what we have heard?*
 To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?a
 2 He grew up like a sapling before him,b
 like a shoot from the parched earth;
 He had no majestic bearing to catch our eye,
 no beauty to draw us to him.
 3 He was spurned and avoided by men,
 a man of suffering, knowing pain,
 Like one from whom you turn your face,
 spurned, and we held him in no esteem.c
Yet it was our pain that he bore,
 our sufferings he endured.
 We thought of him as stricken,
 struck down by God* and afflicted,d
 5 But he was pierced for our sins,
 crushed for our iniquity. [11]
Jesus identified with the nameless of the Earth because He was one of them. No one during Jesus’ public life ever knew that this particular Nameless One actually was the One who had “the Name that is above all names.”

Philippians 2:

Rather, he emptied himself,
 taking the form of a slave,
 coming in human likeness;*
 and found human in appearance,e
 8 he humbled himself,f
 becoming obedient to death,
 even death on a cross.*
 Because of this, God greatly exalted him
 and bestowed on him the name*
 that is above every name,g

 10 that at the name of Jesus
 every knee should bend,*
 of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,h
 11 and every tongue confess that
 Jesus Christ is Lord,*
 to the glory of God the Father.i [12]
The greatness of the Son is His willingness to be Nameless – “he emptied Himself / taking the form of a slave”. It is as if the meaning of God’s transcendence lies in God’s willingness, and capacity, to let go of Himself, becoming not just like us, but as us – “coming in human likeness / and found human in appearance.”

This is why I am convinced about the misdirecting influence of the title “the Good Samaritan”. The Parable should bear the name of the nameless one, the one we overlook, the one who doesn’t matter to anyone … so that we are directed by the title to look there, at him. The Samaritan looked there. Right? There is no Parable to tell without the nameless one lying in that unfriendly ditch.

It is for this reason, Peregrinus, that I wanted you to see this painting.

What first strikes us as we contemplate that painting is how clearly wrong something is in it. Do you see it?

The nameless man – “robbed, beaten, and left to die” – is in fact beautiful, powerfully-built, no blood or dirt or gash anywhere visible on him. And his majestic ease of posture as he lies there bespeaks a great inner dignity – something impossible to rob from such a man. How could the artist (or why would he?) get a fact so wrong? The nameless man should have been painted with gashes and bruises and blood flowing, giving the reason why he was indeed a man left to die? Why can’t we see that in the painting?

Why indeed.

Do you notice how the light that washes over the nameless man, and the good Samaritan holding him, has its source in our eyes? The light proceeds from outside the painting (notice the direction of the shadows), which can only be that it is our eyes of faith that are the source of the light that illuminates the nameless one. They allow us to see him as God does, and it is our eyes’ light that illuminates the good Samaritan who has drawn near to him. The painter grants to our eyes the power to make beautiful that nameless man.

In contrast, the eyes of those other two – the Priest and the Levite (see them over on the road there?) – can see only a man who is ugly and frightening and obviously dying, a man to be “spurned and avoided” by them … and so “they passed by on the opposite side.”

Isaiah 52: 2-3 –
 He had no majestic bearing to catch our eye,
     no beauty to draw us to him.
 3 He was spurned and avoided by men,
    a man of suffering, knowing pain,

The artist wants us to associate the nameless man (as painted) with the body of Jesus just taken down from the Cross – an image of the Crucified after the fashion of Michelangelo’s famous sculpture - the Pietà. The painter understands that true Christian faith is able to recognize, to see Christ Himself, in the nameless ones of the Earth.

I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.

Jesus came to give us such eyes, Peregrinus, so that we could see others as He does.

John 9 - We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work.d 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”e 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes,f 7 and said to him, “Go wash* in the Pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed, and came back able to see.g [14]

I myself, not often but certainly sometimes, have been looked at with such eyes. They saw me and proved their power to “make me” anew. Such eyes (and to use the ancient language of redemption) have the power to restore God’s image in a person.

What a power the Holy Spirit pours into us, that we might look at people with such eyes!

St. John of the Cross understood this so well about God (and who understood it best during those nine months when he was actively scorned, spurned, mocked, and made of no-account by his own Carmelite community). He understood the power of Christ’s eyes, when he wrote, for example, in his Spiritual Canticle:
5. Pouring out a thousand graces,
he [the Lord] passed these groves in haste;
and having looked at them,
with his image alone,
clothed them in beauty.

Have you ever heard, Peregrinus, a writer or speaker help us get to know that Nameless One[16] lying in the ditch, to wonder how it happened that he got there, who got us to feel what that dying man felt each time people saw him there, ignored him, and walked on by, or got us to consider the feelings of those who loved him, and who were wondering why he had not come home that night? I haven’t.

Yet, would not his story be exactly the story that Jesus Himself would seek to know, approaching him (us!) rather than passing him by, giving him aid and kindness, and restoring to him his true image, his true name, clothing him in beauty?[17]

Should not that famous Parable of Jesus recorded in Luke 10 be given the title of the nameless one towards whom our eyes are directed by the action of the good Samaritan? If our title ignores him, then our title continues to victimize the nameless. What should be a more sufficient title, Peregrinus? I’d love your thoughts about this.

I am your grateful friend in Christ, of the One whose Name is above all names,



[1] Benezit Dictionary of Artists – “Clavé y Roqué, Pelegrin Spanish , 19th century , male . Born 1810 or 1811 , in Barcelona ; died 13 September 1880 , in Rome . Painter , pastellist , draughtsman . Allegorical subjects, portraits . Pelegrin Clavé y Roqué studied at the Accademia di San Luca in Rome during the time that Ingres was there. He was summoned by the Mexican government to assist in the organisation of the Real Academia de San Carlos in 1846 and became director, a post that he held for 20 years.”

[2] The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd. ed. – “Hopkins, Gerard Manley (1844–89), poet. He was educated at Balliol College, Oxford, where he was the pupil of B. Jowett and W. Pater and the friend of Robert Bridges and D. M. Dolben. At this time he came under the religious influence of E. B. Pusey and H. P. Liddon. In 1866 Hopkins joined the RC Church, in 1868 he entered the Jesuit novitiate, and in 1877 he was ordained priest. In 1884 he was appointed professor of Greek at the Royal University, Dublin, a position which he held till his death. He was unknown as a poet during his life, except to two or three friends, and the preservation of his MSS is due to Robert Bridges, who first edited them in 1918. His poems, the most ambitious of which is The Wreck of the Deutschland and perhaps the most representative The Windhover: to Christ our Lord, are marked by their great intensity of feeling, freedom in rhythm, and individual use of words, and have exerted much influence on more recent poets.”

[3] See https://hopkinspoetry.com/poem/the-blessed-virgin/

[4] Sometimes people think that the titles are also divinely-inspired, which they are not. Rather, they are “helps” put into the biblical text to direct readers to the particular sections/stories he or she is seeking to find. We should have no qualms about challenging, every time, that title, wondering whether in fact it is right title for the pericope we are reading and praying.
[5] Pur-IK-ō-pee – The Oxford English Dictionary at the noun “pericope” – “Chiefly Christian Church. A section or subsection of a religious text, esp. one appointed for reading in public worship; a lesson.”

[6] What has become too wearyingly obvious to us is how often today we are forced to contemplate instances of human behaviors that prove that we human beings have either forgotten completely, or have lost our ability to activate, what a normal human being acts like, and is. Jesus came to show us what normal is, so that each of us Christians could serve as normative and compellingly attractive examples of humanity to those wanting to become human, to become good ones.

[7] New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Lk 10:30.

[8] I emphasize the adverb “habitually” here to acknowledge how often such “overlooking” or “failing to notice” particular kinds of other people is not a conscious act - an active perversity (though it could be that also), but an attitude that binds a person’s ability to see himself or herself accurately. Our attitudes often fail to awaken us as to their worthiness or unworthiness. This is why a person can feel that he or she is a good person, because not actively perverse to this person or that person he or she ignores, when in fact his or her attitudes reveal a deep-set perverse human personality. Racism or clericalism are classic examples of this.

h Is 58:7; Ez 18:7.

[9] New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Mt 25:35–36.

[10] John D. Barry, “Servant Songs,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016) – “Duhm first used the term “Servant Song” in his 1892 commentary Das Buch Jesaia übersetzt und erklärt to describe the passages about the Suffering Servant that he considered to be from a different source. He, and others after him (see Baltzer, Deutero-Isaiah, 4; Westermann, Isaiah 40–66, 27–30), considered Isa 40–55 to be an edited work from “Deutero-Isaiah” (who wrote during Israel’s exile in Babylon) and the Servant Songs.”

* What we have heard: this fourth servant oracle is introduced by words of the Lord (52:13–15) but is now continued by speakers who are not identified, perhaps those referred to in 52:15, perhaps Israel (cf. “struck for the sins of his people”—v. 8). The Lord is again the speaker in vv. 11–13.

a Is 52:10; Jn 12:38; Rom 10:16.

b Is 11:1.

c Jb 19:18; Ps 31:11–13; Mk 9:11.

* Struck down by God: the Bible often sees suffering as a punishment for sin (e.g., Ps 6:2; 32:1–5), yet sin sometimes appears to go unpunished and the innocent often suffer (cf. Ps 73; the Book of Job). In the case of the servant, the onlookers initially judge him guilty because of his suffering but, in some way not explained, they come to understand that his sufferings are for the sins of others. One notes the element of surprise, for such vicarious suffering, in the form described here, is without parallel in the Old Testament.

d Jer 10:19; Mt 8:17.

[11] New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Is 53:1–5.

* Taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness: or “… taking the form of a slave. Coming in human likeness, and found human in appearance.” While it is common to take Phil 2:6, 7 as dealing with Christ’s preexistence and Phil 2:8 with his incarnate life, so that lines Phil 2:7b, 7c are parallel, it is also possible to interpret so as to exclude any reference to preexistence (see note on Phil 2:6) and to take Phil 2:6–8 as presenting two parallel stanzas about Jesus’ human state (Phil 2:6–7b; 7cd–8); in the latter alternative, coming in human likeness begins the second stanza and parallels 6a to some extent.

e Is 53:3, 11; Jn 1:14; Rom 8:3; 2 Cor 8:9; Gal 4:4; Heb 2:14, 17.

f Mt 26:39; Jn 10:17; Heb 5:8; 12:2.

* There may be reflected here language about the servant of the Lord, Is 52:13–53:12 especially Is 53:12.

* The name: “Lord” (Phil 2:11), revealing the true nature of the one who is named.

g Acts 2:33; Mt 23:12; Eph 1:20–21; Heb 1:3–4.

* Every knee should bend … every tongue confess: into this language of Is 45:23 there has been inserted a reference to the three levels in the universe, according to ancient thought, heaven, earth, under the earth.

h Is 45:23; Jn 5:23; Rom 14:11; Rev 5:13.

* Jesus Christ is Lord: a common early Christian acclamation; cf. 1 Cor 12:3; Rom 10:9. But doxology to God the Father is not overlooked here (Phil 2:11c) in the final version of the hymn.

i Acts 2:36; Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 12:3.

[12] New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Php 2:7–11.

[13] See Gerard Manley Hopkins, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44389/as-kingfishers-catch-fire

d 11:9–10; 12:35–36

e 8:12

5:11; Mk 7:33; 8:23

* Go wash: perhaps a test of faith; cf. 2 Kgs 5:10–14. The water tunnel Siloam (= Sent) is used as a symbol of Jesus, sent by his Father.
g 2 Kgs 5:10–14.

[14] New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Jn 9:4–7

[15] St. John of the Cross, Spiritual Canticle, stanza 5. For the best translation into English see: https://www.icspublications.org/collections/john-of-the-cross

[16] My preferred name for Evil is “the Unnamed Powers”. They are malign personal agencies operating in the world that make those who cooperate with those agencies become like them; that is, Unnamed and Unnamers. The “Unnamed” take the names from the “Named” … and, instead, call them names. Evil strips the true names from people. Recall how that so terribly wounded man who lived in the tombs near the town of Gerasa (Luke 8:26-39), who could no longer remember his true name. When asked by Jesus for his name, he called himself “Legion”, a description referring to the number of ugly names that he had been called for so many years, and the ugliness of each “name-calling” he could not get out of his memory. The Unnamed Powers destroy people by destroying their real names: “Beloved” or “Child of God” or “Worth more than a thousand sparrows”, etc. Think about Mary Magdalene at the tomb on that Resurrection morning, who, after having been so utterly traumatized and brutalized by the sheer ugliness and evil of Jesus’ murder, needed Jesus (the Gardener suddenly next to her) to give her back her name: “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’” (John 20:16) In recovering her true name, she re-gained her ability to recognize Jesus standing right there in front of her.

[17] It was the brilliant Professor, John Donahue, SJ, a New Testament scholar who taught at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley (now associated with Santa Clara University) during a year when I was a student there, who opened, really opened, my eyes to begin to see the depths of this parable of Jesus. His book on all of the Parables of Jesus is my favorite book on the subject: The Gospel in Parable (1988). It was he who explained the significance of the man in the ditch as “unnamed” (this was not his term, but mine), as “unclothed” or “naked”, which meant that he could not be identified as to what type of human being he was (the clothes gave the social cues as to whom a person belonged) and therefore how a person should act towards him. The unnamed man in the ditch, his very anonymity, allowed Jesus to strike at the problem that happens when we humans get too preoccupied with what kind of a person someone is, rather than that he or she is a person (a profoundly more important truth), who is owed the same prima facie recognition that God Himself gives to each person, to each of us.

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