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Our readers asked:

Why are there people in the Gospel with no name (such as the Rich Young Man or the Samaritan Women)?

Joe Paprocki Answers:

Names play an important role in the Gospels. While major characters such as the Apostles, Mary and Joseph, King Herod and Pontius Pilate are named, when it comes to more minor characters, we don’t always get the name of the individual. In many ways, this creates a bit of a mystery with regards to these characters, similar to the mystery that surrounded the masked Lone Ranger (an old TV Western) which led people to ask, “Who was that masked man?”

In some cases, minor characters do receive a name such as Simon of Cyrene who helped Jesus carry his Cross, Zacchaeus, the tax collector with whom Jesus ate dinner, and Barabbas, the criminal who won his release instead of Jesus at the hands of Pontius Pilate. In other cases, we never find out the name of some minor characters such as the rich young man who went away unhappy after Jesus told him to sell his belongings and give the money to the poor, or the woman who was caught in adultery and forgiven by Jesus. Most likely it is because these characters literally were unknown to the witnesses of these Gospel events. They simply entered a scene, had an encounter with Jesus, and were on their way before anyone discovered who they were. At the same time, it is possible that the authors of the Gospels sometimes used this as a device to invite the readers to enter into the Gospel stories and encounter Jesus by putting ourselves in the place of these unnamed characters. One of the most interesting possibilities of this is the story of the 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus after Jesus’ death (Luke 24). Luke tells us that the 2 were unable to recognize the Risen Christ who was walking at their side. After Jesus breaks bread with them, their eyes are opened and they recognize him. The story gives us the name of only one of the disciples – Clopas. Why not name the other one too? It is possible that Luke is inviting us to identify with the unnamed disciple, urging us to recognize the Risen Christ who is walking along the road of life with us and who is encountered most intimately in the Eucharist – the Breaking of the Bread.

 
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The Author : Joe Paprocki
Joe Paprocki, D.Min., is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press in Chicago. He has over 30 years of experience in pastoral ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Joe is the author of numerous books on pastoral ministry and catechesis, including The Bible Blueprint, Living the Mass, and bestsellers The Catechist's Toolbox and A Well-Built Faith (all from Loyola Press).
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