The nickname could have been crushing for some. For whatever reason it did not bother me. Here’s the story.
When I was a teenager our youth group started a puppet ministry. Sounds kind of quaint now, but for some reason our team was a hit. This was before reality television so people had nothing better to do than to watch puppets. We performed at churches. We performed at events. We performed in the city.
Once we got an invitation to bring our show to the Cat Club. Our high school mascot was the Bobcat. Our youth minister thought it was the football booster club that issued the invitation, didn’t know why they’d want a puppet show, but figured that was about as good as it would get in San Angelo, Texas. We booked it only to show up and discover it was really the Cat Club. The Cat Club was made up of a bunch of older women who were crazy about cats.
One of our skits had to do with the rich man and Lazarus. The narrator would say Lazarus was a “diseased beggar.” I manned the Lazarus puppet and, since I was the youngest in the group, was nicknamed “the Beggar.” “The Beg” for short.
Maybe it was because I knew that behind the nickname was some brotherly love from the group I was fine with it. It stayed with me. I knew I wasn’t a diseased beggar. I was healthy and my parents had some money. But I also knew that I had a group around me who accepted me. In a strange way it gave me confidence.
Maybe you had a nickname growing up. Maybe you have one now. Nicknames can be detrimental if meant to be harmful. But they can also give a person a new identity.
Levi had a nickname and he must have loved it. “Levi” is the Hebrew name for the writer of the gospel called Matthew. Levi was the tax collector who was loathed by his Jewish friends and used by his Roman friends. The tax collector who one day packed up his tax collector booth and followed Jesus. The tax collector whose first act we know of was to invite people over to his house to be with Jesus.
Levi. That name may have been given to him by his parents in hopes he would become a rabbi or priest. We can imagine that he felt the disappointment from them too when he turned his back on their dreams for him and turned out to be a tax collector.
But he felt no disappointment from Jesus. Jesus called him “Matthew.” It most likely is a nickname. “Matthew” means “Gift of God.” Imagine how his new name changed his life. He had never felt like a gift to anyone before. His new identity sent him following Jesus and learning from him. Later it would send him as a missionary to Ethiopia to tell them about the “gift of God” to the world.
God loves to rename his people. Abram became Abraham: Father of many. Sarai became Sarah: Princess. Jacob became Israel: He strove with God and men and prevailed. Cephas became Peter: a rock.
Jesus gave Levi a vision of who he could be by nicknaming him Matthew: Gift of God. And he has given you a new name too. Try on “forgiven” for size. Or how about “saint”? “Friend” might fit you just fine.
And maybe “beggar” isn’t so bad after all. We’re told that when Martin Luther died a scrap of paper was found in his pocket. It read, “This is true. We are all beggars before God.” Beggars that have been given an inheritance from the King.
How incredible is that?
Question: Did you have a nickname while growing up? Now? What nickname do you think God would give you?