Paul Pierce is one of the greatest Celtic basketball players of all time. Now I’m sure he put in a lot of work to make himself that way, but even he says that without one particular person, it may never have happened.
Back 10 years ago, he was playing against the archrival Los Angeles Lakers, and they happened to have a player named Shaq. Now, Shaq was probably the best player in basketball then, and one of the best ever. So, Paul Pierce has the best game that he had ever had up to that point. Offense, defense, scoring, rebounding, everything. He was doing the thing he does, and he was at his best. So afterwards, Shaq goes up to a Boston reporter and says, “Write this down: Paul Pierce is the Truth.” So the messenger writes it down and publishes it, and it spreads throughout the league, and that becomes his nickname. Paul Pierce, The Truth. What it did for his confidence, his identity and established place in the league (and his wallet, too). It stuck. Because it came from Shaq, who saw him at his best.
So, some time afterwards, in another interview, Shaq says, “He doesn’t have to thank me, I saw something in him and called what I saw. His game isn’t a lie.” And recently, Paul Pierce said, “Shaq, thank you for giving me the nickname the Truth. If you hadn’t done that, I don’t know where I would be in this league.”
Remember when Nathaniel goes to meet the Lord? He’s a guy who believes he’s a nobody, who doesn’t think much of nobodies. But the Lord sees something great in him. He knows him and recognizes who he really is, underneath all the distractions and failures and wrong turns and mistakes. How? “When you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” (Jn 1:48) He saw him when he was doing the thing he does, and he was at his best. And it stuck.
Or what about when Jesus asks the disciples who they think that He is? He gives Simon a new name, Peter, and says that He is going to build His Church on him, that He will have the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Big stuff! What gave Him the confidence in Peter, how did He know him so well? Well, in the midst of all the noise and distractions and the popular opinions, of this person saying Jesus is this, and that person saying He’s that, Peter stood firm as a rock: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Mt 16:16) He saw Peter doing what he does, at his best. And it has stuck.
Jesus has the power to show us our real identity, to give us our real name, the one that sticks, the one that gives us a life. He knows us so well because He sees us when we are doing the thing we do, when we are at our best.
And His names stick.
And you shall be called by a new name which the mouth of the LORD will give. (Is 62:2)