We can only define them by their malady (or friend’s malady) and location: The Deaf Man in Decapolis, 4 Friends on the Roof. Or sometimes by their profession or nationality: Centurion in Capernaum, Syro-Phonecian Woman in Tyre. The one thing we never know is their names.
I mislabeled this blog series when I started. These people aren’t nameless. They had given names and family relationship names like mother, husband, or cousin. They were people, just like me and you. In fact, Jesus may have called many of them by their names. But we don’t know those names. So they’re not “nameless.” They are “unnamed” or “anonymous.” Maybe I’ll go back and correct all the posts at some point.
It’s the small words that get me: the sight words we learned in first grade. Sure, I can talk about predestination, sanctification, eschatology, and all the rest, but the simple words are the ones that often bring me to my knees or cause my hands to raise in praise.
Recently, one word keeps rising to the surface, like blueberries in milk. The word is with. I’m calling it “the preposition of presence.” From Genesis to Revelation, the Story of God is about presence: His presence with His people and our presence with Him.
If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! –Matthew 12:11-12
The Gospels record seven times Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath. In every situation, we don’t know the person’s name! (One was Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, so we know a bit more about her, but still no name.) We can only define these people by their malady and their location. I’ve listed all seven passages at the bottom, but let’s take a few minutes to look with more detail at three of these people.
Paul was near the end of his third journey, and he wanted to arrive in Jerusalem before Pentecost. He knew a stopover in Ephesus would delay him for days, but he also knew, without a doubt, this trip was his last time to pass that way. So Paul asked the Ephesian church leaders to meet him in Miletus, about 35 miles south of Ephesus (Acts 20:16-17 and note), where he could encourage them once more.
When the Ephesian elders arrived in Miletus, Paul sat them down for a talk. I wouldn’t really call it a conversation, more of a speech or lecture, but in a few sentences, he summarized his approach to ministry. It’s a pattern that still applies today.
The screen door slammed behind him, a quick echo to the cocking of her rifle. She took her time crossing the few feet to the door and opening it with her left hand, rifle ready in her right. She saw him skid around the back corner of the barn, shirt-tale flapping in the breeze.
Her name was Avera. It sounded like “average,” but “average” would never describe her. She and Henry married almost two years earlier, but with his deployment they had only lived together for the last six months, since the war was over. He still had a lot to learn about her.
After a fairly serious confrontation with the Pharisees (Matthew 15:1-20), Jesus “withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon” (Matthew 15:21), where he met an interesting woman (See Nameless: A Woman in Tyre). We don’t know how long he stayed there, but sometime later, He took a circuitous route back to the Sea of Galilee, wandering into the Decapolis (a loose collection of ten cities that stretched all the way up to Damascus). People recognized him there, too. What happened next is easy to miss when you’re reading through the Gospels.
Two boys, really, chosen to accompany the most famous man (next to Jesus) in Christian history. Did their mothers see who Paul was going to be? Did these young men sense the significance of their service…or did they view it as a big adventure?
It makes sense for a group of men to invite an assistant/intern/gopher on a long trip. He could have carried things, stepped out for coffee or sandwiches, even gone ahead for lodgings if necessary. Paul had plenty of people to meet, sermons to prepare, and letters to write. An assistant for the mundane tasks was a perfect addition to their small band.
Paul took off on his second gospel-sharing journey probably more than a year after the first journey ended. This time Silas went with him. Apparently, the two grew close while Paul was at the Jerusalem Council. In addition, Silas had returned to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas to encourage the church there (Acts 15:22, 32), giving these new partners more time to get acquainted. (For more on the Jerusalem Council, see Antioch, part 2.)
Paul and Silas headed north out of Antioch. They probably stopped in Paul’s hometown of Tarsus. Then, they travelled through Derbe and the three cities where Paul had been persecuted on the first trip: Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch. In Lystra, they picked up Timothy.
What are you passionate about? What kind of work feeds your soul?
My father worked 25 years at a chemical plant. His father–my grandfather–worked and died in the coal mines of Kentucky. My father-in-law worked 20+ years at a series of power plants belonging to TVA, power plants his father helped build.
My father managed the trains: driving the engines as they pulled the cars full of coal and before that, applying brakes to all the separate cars. He was the other kind of engineer—the kind that doesn’t have a four-year-degree and “a head full of knowledge but no practical sense.” His words, not mine.
I never asked my dad what he wanted to do with his life. If I had, I think he would have looked at me sideways because it wasn’t the kind of question people asked themselves when their dads worked in coal mines and their best friends died in Vietnam. He graduated from high school, got married, and moved south for a “good job” that would pay the bills and leave him a little time for fun on his days off, which weren’t necessarily the weekends.
He was a centurion. That’s all we need to know: a Roman invader, part of the occupying force. He commanded 100 men. Is that where he found his identity: in his authority and nationality? He was also generous, perhaps as a political move to placate the local religious leaders or perhaps genuinely desiring to do good. His words and actions suggest the latter.
This powerful, generous person of authority is quite a contrast to the others we’ve studied in the Nameless series. That’s why I find him so interesting.
Luke 7:1-10. Matthew 8:5-13.