Our continuous reading from the Acts of the Apostles brings us today to the first use of the term ‘Christian’ to describe the followers of Jesus. It is no accident that this happens in a Greek-speaking city, as Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah, or “anointed one.” The Greeks had no direct knowledge of who the Messiah was uniquely in Judaism, but the general concept of one ‘chosen by the gods’ would have been familiar to them. As the followers of Jesus began to minister more broadly to people within Greek and Roman culture, they probably used the word Christ more frequently. The presence of non-Christian Jews in those same communities would necessitate a new term to distinguish these disciples of Jesus from the other Jews preaching and teaching in their community.
Two thousand years later, we still cling to this term Christian. We belong to Christ Jesus. We are His. By extension, we too are anointed by God with the Holy Spirit. We are called to be Christ to each other and to all whom we meet. Our behavior is to be Christ-like, and our goal is to imitate Christ Jesus in every way. Christianity is quite literally our way of life in Christ. The original self-identification, the “people of the Way” was too generic to stick. We identify ourselves with Him. We identify ourselves by His Holy Name, and “Jesusites” or “Jesusians” just don’t roll off the tongue. Perhaps the Jesuits have the one reasonable-sounding alternative, but the name of Christian is what stuck. We are proud to be identified with Jesus, the One sent by the Father, chosen and anointed with the Holy Spirit. We are proud to live and die by the Name above all other names.