Since Sunday, my name has been on all the news shows. It’s a surreal feeling, since my name is very uncommon in the Western world. I keep turning to the TV with a startled look when I hear newscasters, journalists and analysts whom I’ve watched for years suddenly speaking out my name. But it’s not me they’re talking about — rather, it’s a Muslim man, Omar Mateen, who has blemished my name by perpetrating an act of unspeakable depravity — killing almost 50 people, wounding over 50 more, causing waves of grief to cascading circles of family and friends, and stirring fear and anger in so many more.
“Mateen” is a good name. It is one of the 99 names of Allah found in the Qur’an. My Muslim father gave me that name, hoping it would become an apt descriptor of my life. The Arabic word means “firm, strong, immovable.” I’ve always liked my name. Now, however, it has been sullied. A friend and I went to a fast-food place yesterday. After placing our orders, the inevitable question came, “What’s your name?” For the first time in my life I hesitated to answer, and my friend gave his name instead. Of course, this is a minor and silly issue, especially as many in Orlando are dealing with hearts in tatters, shredded by irreplaceable loss, overshadowed by the dread of uncertainty about the future.
But it drove home to me like never before how names and reputations are woven together. I’ve never met another Mateen face to face, so my name has always seemed proprietary to me. For someone else to sully the name seems so wrong! In ruminating on this, I remembered an illustration I used long ago in a message. It may be completely fictional, but it drives home the point:
In the heyday of Alexander the Great, as he was leading his army to victory after victory, word came to him one day of a soldier who had been derelict in his duty, bringing shame on his division. The warrior king called for the soldier to be brought to him. After the charges were read, the king asked the lowly soldier, “What is your name?” “Alexander,” came the quiet reply. “What did you say?” Alexander the Great roared at the quaking foot soldier. “Alexander,” the man replied a bit louder, to which the larger than life king said, “Either you change your behavior, or you change your name.”
The experience of having one’s name sullied by the behavior of another with the same name brought me up short yesterday as God reminded me that as a follower of Jesus I have taken on his name. Every time I call myself a Christian (meaning “little Christ”), I am representing him to the world. How I act or don’t act, what I say or don’t say, the face I present to the world, all either burnish or tarnish the reputation of the Lord. Fortunately, his ultimate worth does not rest on my virtues or vices. But what a timely reminder to me of the great honor given to me and the myriad others who bear the name of Christ — we represent one whose honor deserves the very best we can give.
I can’t imagine Jesus ever saying to a follower, “Change your behavior or change your name.” But it’s a good thing to keep in mind as we walk the path of discipleship.