I’ve been trying to make the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, out of papier mache for the last couple of weeks. ‘Why?’ you might ask. It’s a question I have pondered myself many times. Our village has a scarecrow festival each year and I’ve somehow convinced myself that it would be good to join in. http://www.haxbyandwiggintonmethodistchurch.org.uk/scarecrows/
What has struck me during the hours that I have devoted myself to this task is that the cardboard and lumps of soggy newspaper around me have always been Bilbo. No one else would have recognized the mess on the kitchen table, but I’ve known all along that it was him. As I’ve painted his face and put on the finishing touches, I’m still not sure if anyone else will be able to say who it is. But I do. He’s Bilbo. He’s mine.
We all know that names are important. Think of the hours that prospective parents spend on this choice, the way meanings are carefully considered, as well as family histories.
There’s a story in the Bible that I haven’t really thought about since I was a child. It’s the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. (What about those names?) What I’d never paid attention to before is that those aren’t their real names, not what they were called when they were babies in Judah. Before they were captured and taken away into exile in Babylon (because they were handsome, clever and charming – that’s what it says, honest) they were known as Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.
The meanings of the new names they’re given in captivity have to do with Babylonian culture and religion and nothing to do with who they really are. If you remember this story, you’ll know that eventually they refuse to bow down to worship a statue. Quite bold for people in their position. They also say to the king, ‘Our God can save us but even if he doesn’t, there is no way that we are going to deny who we really are.’
He has them thrown in a massive fire pit.
As I imagined this story recently, I realised that in the fire, their true natures and their true names are revealed. This is what their names mean: Hananiah, the Lord shows grace; Mishael, who is what God is; and Azariah, the Lord helps. Living in exile in a foreign land, even about to be tortured to death, they are truly who God has created them to be. And although three people were thrown in the pit, the king mysteriously spots four people walking around, unharmed. He has them brought out and they don’t even smell of smoke.
To me, that is purity of heart. Being true to what God has made us to be. What is your real name?