Did you ever notice that Jesus had nicknames for some of his closest companions? According to the Gospel of John, Simon, Andrew’s brother, got a nickname from Jesus when they first met. Jesus called him Cephas or Peter which means Rock. The gospel writers tell us that Jesus had a unique ability to know a lot about a man on first introduction. How did Jesus come up with the “Rock” as a nickname for Simon? To me, that’s an awesome nickname, “Rock!” Wasn’t Simon Peter the unpredictable, spontaneous one who sometimes spoke or acted without much forethought? Didn’t he question Jesus a little more than all the other disciples? Maybe Jesus’ choice of a nickname for Simon was partly because Peter’s known persona was definitely not like a rock. Or, maybe it was because he knew who Simon was to become. At any rate, the nickname stuck so well that throughout history Simon son of Jonas is known as Peter, Simon Peter, or as a man named Simon who is called Peter.
James and John the sons of Zebedee were nicknamed by Jesus as the sons of thunder. When a Samaritan town refused to accommodate Jesus and his disciples they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” The brothers seemed to be a little impetuous, or thunderous. The brothers asked for one to sit at Jesus’ right hand and the other at his left in his kingdom. They are not specifically named but may have been responsible for the contention (Luke 22:24) at the last supper over who would be greatest. After the resurrection, James, as leader of the church in Jerusalem, was the first of Jesus’ disciples to be killed by the sword (Acts 12:2). John lived to an old age and became known to the church as the apostle of love (thunderous love?). In his letters to the church the word love appears more than 40 times.
Peter, James, and John were kind of an inner circle of Jesus’ disciples. They were specifically invited by Jesus to witness things that the others were not. They seem to have been a little bit special and Jesus gave them nicknames.
My younger brother Jonathan was given the nickname Jack from birth because he was named after my mother’s grandfather. It is what her grandad was called. In school, however, Jack was known by all his friends as “Mouse”. Jack’s best friends were “Wolfie,” “Fox” and so on, all animals. Now in his seventies, my brother Jack is probably best known to his friends as “Mouse’”
I was never an intimate part of my brother’s group, but they tried to accommodate me by calling me “Rat” - big brother to “Mouse.” I was “Templeton the Rat” from Charlotte’s Web. The nickname might have stuck, but I had no middle initial “A.”
As a child I was always known as Roger, sometimes as little Roger, or as Roger Junior. My dad and I had the same first and last names and neither of us had a middle name. One summer, in Long Island I was dubbed “Curly Catch-it-all” by my cousin Cathy, because of my very curly hair. Fortunately, the nickname did not stick.
I had no nickname that stuck until about eight years ago when I became the pastor of a small church in Hollidaysburg, PA. People started calling me “Pastor”. The name unnerved me a little at first. I needed time to become more comfortable in my new role, the name came with responsibilities. I think that Jesus would be pleased to see my friends call me “Pastor,” but to God and the church family I am “Servant.” But I would also like to be known as “Friend.”
Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant doesn’t know what his lord does. But I have called you friends, for everything that I heard from my Father, I have made known to you.” John 15:13-15
For me a nickname of Friend would be just fine.