“Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brothers with them.” (Romans 16:14)
In Romans 16, the Apostle Paul concludes his epistle by sending greetings to a lengthy list of friends and co-workers. He specifically names 26 people.
We know nothing more about Asyncritus, Phlegon, or most of the others. But their names matter, because all names matter.
As we read Scripture, we usually come to lists of names (in genealogies or greetings) and skip over them. We don’t know these folk, but their names rest there in Holy Scripture. While we may not know their stories, the mere presence and inclusion of their names should say something to us.
I often hear people say, “I don’t have a good memory” or “I’m terrible with names.” We excuse our inattentiveness — how many of us forget a name within moments of someone introducing themselves to us? — or our indiscipline. It does indeed take effort (for most of us) to listen and remember. But it’s important.
Years ago, I stopped talking about Kim as “my wife” (though she is) and began to use her name. I use her name in conversations, in classrooms, and in writing. And several things happen as I use her name.
First, names bring with them a certain embodiment. Names are personal. And when I mention Kim, she somehow becomes real and present in a way that “my wife” is not. This small change makes a huge difference.
Second, names honor us in ways that titles or simple descriptors do not. If I mention my doctor, it sounds clinical and detached. If I talk about Dr. Randall, then something rather intangible (but still important) happens; a person named Randall is lifted up and honored, not because he is a doctor but because he is named.
Presence and honor. Names matter.
In class, when a student says “I agree with her” and points across the room, it’s entirely different from “I agree with Sarah.” When someone greets me and says “Hi, David” it’s a different experience than a simple “Hi.”
This is more than social etiquette. There’s important theology here, tucked beneath words like Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, and Hermas.
God declares His own name to us, through Moses. YHWH (Exodus 3:14). And He knows our names, and will even give us new names (Revelation 2:17). He has certainly taken the trouble to preserve the specific names of so many saints of the past (see also Hebrews 11).
As we come to this Thursday of Holy Week, rest assured God knows your name. Your name matters, because you matter. And perhaps today we will extend the same grace to others. It’s about presence and honor.