Nameless–no, Unnamed–Series Conclusion

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.

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Nameless: Sabbath Healings

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.

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Nameless: Deaf Man in Decapolis

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.

Mark 7:31-37.

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Nameless: Centurion in Capernaum

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.

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Nameless: A Troupe of Ten Lepers

One man, a leper, interrupted Jesus on the road, and Jesus returned him to his relationships (Luke 5:12-14, etc.). We saw that story last week. This week, we look at ten other nameless men with leprosy who approached Jesus in a different way, but only one of them chose to say “thank you.”

Luke 17:11-19.

Jesus was already on his way to Jerusalem for the last time (Luke 13:22, On the Way to The Cross series), walking southeast, along the border between Galilee to the north, Samaria to the south, and heading toward the Jordan River valley. He stopped in some little village, which also remains nameless, along with the ten outcasts on its edge. The place isn’t important. The men’s names aren’t important. What matters? Jesus and His power.

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Nameless: A Muddy Man with Leprosy

Let me say up front, the muddy part is my imagination.

On two separate occasions, Jesus healed men with leprosy. Once, it was a single man, and the other time, it was ten men. We will spend some time with the former today and the latter next week. But first…

The New Testament term, leprosy, comes from a Greek word that refers to any type of skin disease. I worked in our backyard a couple of weeks ago, and as I write, I still have poison ivy on my arms. That’s one type of leprosy. The serious medical condition we typically associate with leprosy, however, is now called Hansen’s disease. It’s a bacterial infection that leads to nerve damage. The person doesn’t feel injuries to his/her extremities, resulting in disfigurement and sometimes death.

Here’s the CDC clarification:

The “leprosy” found in historical and religious texts described a variety of skin conditions from rashes and patchy skin to swelling. They were noted to be very contagious, which is not true for Hansen’s disease and also did not have some of the most obvious signs of Hansen’s disease, like disfigurement, blindness, and loss of pain sensation.

The Old Testament established regulations and purification rituals for those with leprosy (see Leviticus 13-14), which turned the priests into pseudo dermatologists. Glad I’m not them!

Now. Let’s get into the Scriptures.

A Muddy Man in the Road

Matthew 8:1-4, Mark 1:40-44, Luke 5:12-14.

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Nameless: 4 Friends on a Roof

Jesus’ reputation was getting huge! He’d grown too large for the coffee shop scene and even the small venue circuit (Mark 1:45). He needed arenas for His teaching and healing times, but you don’t see many of those in first-century backwaters of the Roman Empire—especially not ones available to an itinerant Jewish teacher. Sometimes word got out that Jesus was in someone’s home. These unintentional public appearances always overflowed their spaces. People crowded into the main room, leaned in the windows, and blocked the doors—all just to get close to Jesus.

That’s the situation four friends found when they brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus. Continue reading

Nameless: Naaman’s Wife’s Servant

Sometimes you can be unforgettable and yet remain nameless.

[Jesus] said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”  –Luke 4:24-27

In Elijah’s time, there was the widow of Zarephath. In Elisha’s time, there was Naaman the Syrian. Neither was a Jew. We don’t know the name of the widow, and we don’t know the name of the servant girl who introduced Naaman to Elisha, prophet of the One True God. Continue reading

Nameless: a Woman in Tyre

Here’s the first study in our series about unnamed—but not unimportant—people in the Bible.

Jesus took off from Gennesaret, on the Sea of Galilee, after a confrontation with the Pharisees (Matthew 14:34-15:20), and He headed west, away from his normal stomping grounds. He probably traveled through the mountains of Upper Galilee, passing Gischala and Mt. Meron before he reached the coastal city of Tyre in Syrian Phoenicia. (Can you tell I just bought a Bible atlas? Yay!) His disciples must have wondered what He was doing. Continue reading

Nameless: Series Introduction

What’s in a name? Shakespeare said it wasn’t really important:

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.  -William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

But God prioritizes names. He equates them to one’s reputation—especially His own. God told Abram his name would be great (Genesis 12:2). Later, He changed Jacob’s name to Israel, meaning “He struggles with God” (Genesis 32:28). And repeatedly, the Psalmists praise God’s Name.

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness. Psalm 29:2

Later, Peter heals a man just by saying Jesus’ name:

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Acts 3:6

And he insists before the Sanhedrin:

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”  –Acts 4:12

There’s power in one’s name—especially Jesus’.

Why do we get so embarrassed
when we forget someone’s name?

And identity. If names weren’t important, we wouldn’t get so embarrassed when we forget someone’s name, and it wouldn’t be so significant if we call someone by the wrong name. We also wouldn’t work so hard to pronounce names properly.

So what does it mean when someone remains nameless in the Biblical narrative? In particular, many people Jesus healed and some with whom He interacted often aren’t recognized by name. Continue reading