Back in the early 80’s my parents made a decision that’s affected every year of my life, maybe every month. When filling out my birth certificate, they wrote down Joseph Matthew Sliger. However, somewhere around the same time, they decided to call me by an abbreviated version of my middle name: Matt.
Of course, lots of people go by their middle names; I’m not traumatized. Yet it does create a few issues. One of the earliest occurred the first day of class every year of elementary and middle school. If you’re like me, the first day of school brought with it heightened nerves about meeting your new classmates and your new teacher. All I ever wanted to do was keep my head down and blend in. However, in those first few moments, as the teacher began calling roll, kid after kid would respond like the one before: “Here.” Middle name folks didn’t have that option. Eventually when the teacher landed on Sliger, Joseph, the first words my fellow classmates would hear from me were, “I go by Matt.” In short, I introduced myself by correcting my teacher.
A few years later, I studied music in college. A kind and gifted man named Mr. Rasmussen served as my private instructor, meaning that every week I went to his office for a 30–minute lesson. During the very first week of college, at the beginning of my first lesson, he happened to ask me, “Why don’t you go by Joseph?” While you’d think 13 years of school prepared me for this simple question, I responded, “I prefer Matt.” I’ll let you guess Mr. Rasmussen’s first name.
The biggest issue, however, is that most of the time I just completely forget that Joseph is my first name. For example, occasionally the Kroger pharmacist will say after multiple minutes searching the database, “I can’t find a Matt Sliger.” With a host of folks standing and stewing behind me, I have to admit aloud, “Oh yeah, my name is actually Joseph.” Everyone finds this incredibly endearing.
You might say, “Matt, how could you forget something so central to your identity?”
I thought about that question recently while studying Jesus’ prayer in John 17. In that prayer, Jesus prays for His people. Who are these people? They are the ones the Father has given to His Son “out of the world” (17:6). Has a single one of them been lost? According to verse 12, Jesus asserts, “No.” He guards His people. Further, as this chapter goes on, Jesus prays that His people might be transformed by His word, or sanctified by the truth (17:17). His holy life makes possible His people’s holiness (17:19). Then He prays that His people would be one as the Father and the Son are one (17:21). The perfect unity of the Godhead, and our union with Christ, makes this kind of unity possible among God’s people. Jesus concludes His prayer in John 17 by praying that one day this same people, holy and united, might be with Him to see His glory (17:24).
Jesus prays for His people’s holiness, their unity, and for their future hope. And that’s to barely scratch the surface of the inexhaustible depths of John 17. After that brief overview, I think it’s worth considering: if the prayer of a righteous man availeth much, how effective is the prayer of Jesus?
A couple years ago, I was on the phone with AT&T. After quite a few minutes of joyfully discussing the details behind a modem I’d mailed back, the nice lady on the other end of the line said to me, “Matt, can I ask, how are you related to Joseph Sliger?” I found that to be quite the existential question. How would/should I respond? Eventually I answered, “I am him.”
That’s been true every day of my life, whether I remember it or not. And if I’m being analytical, I think I keep forgetting this because everyone calls me Matt. That’s what I repeatedly turn around and answer to. The regularity with which my middle name is reinforced explains how I can forget something so central to my identity.
And you, because you’re bombarded by other information––from within and from without––often forget that the words we considered above were prayed by a real man for a real people, a people to whom you belong. Jesus’ prayer in John 17 actually defines His people. And, whether we remember it or not, it’s true.