OK, I admit it. I am a name-dropper. The Urban Dictionary defines a name-dropper as a vain person who is insecure about his popularity, and must resort to the inclusion of the names of popular people who have no relevance to the conversation in order to achieve a self-gratifying level of social acceptance or ego boost. Wow! Do I really want to confess to this? I hope my motive for attempting to recall names is a little nobler than that.
I believe there is something about knowing and calling a person by name that gives dignity and worth to that individual. (I say this, recognizing accurate name-calling is not an easy task for many of us.) However, to be able to look someone in the eye and say his or her name communicates knowledge, oftentimes warmth, and a sense of value: I care enough to know your name.
Several years ago, I (along with many others at CPC) was introduced to a mentoring ministry at Walker State Prison (WSP). Initially, I only saw a large, nameless group of convicts. My sole mentee was the only one whose name I knew. The others were labeled only by their common DOC uniforms. These were men who, collectively, have been dismissed by society.
As I began to be more involved in this ministry, I made it a point to call people by name. I tried to learn their names: Tim, Ryan, Tyree, Robert, and Bill. Meals were shared, conversations had, prayers prayed together. Now, I can’t walk into the prison without seeing many I know by name, these same ones who were formerly without names to me. I now see men known to me, and I to them.
It seems ironic to me, in light of this experience, that we know the names of Oprah, Beyoncé, LeBron, and Hillary. Individuals we will never know personally become synonymous with power, wealth, and renown. As a result, they are known and valued in our society simply because their names appear on some magazine A–list.
In the Kingdom of God, though money and power can both be used for kingdom purposes, we aren’t known because of either of them. While we often recognize the names of those who are rich and popular in our society, Jesus turns our society’s values on their head. He tells us the name of Lazarus, the poor man who lay at the gate of the rich man, who remains the nameless one in this parable (Luke 16.19-31). In this story, the rich man is the one not known to God despite all his worldly renown and power. Instead, Lazarus is known and received by God into Abraham’s bosom.
In our culture, worth is largely determined in monetary measures and buying power. They are the things our society teaches us to value, and we can name the names of those who attain high levels of both. But, to experience the kingdom Jesus offers, to be known and called by name has nothing to do with what we can offer. Human dignity and worth are not defined by what one has or the rank one holds. Rather, humanity is redefined by a God who serves, and a willingness to follow in his service. This is the humanity Jesus sets before us. The God-man comes in service and offers dignity and worth to those who might otherwise remain nameless. In a world that values status, power, and prestige it is an up-stream course to chart, but to be known by the One “who came not to be served but to serve and offer his life as a ransom” is dignity and worth at its fullest.