I start by asking a simple question: Who are you?
How do you answer that? Do you respond by saying your name? Where you’re from? What you do? Your place in your family?
Who are you?
This is the question that John is asked in today’s Gospel reading (John 1:6-8, 19-28) by the priests and Levites. They caught wind of what he was saying, what he was doing… the ruckus he was causing, the stirring up of the people. They wanted to understand what was happening and so they posed this simple seeming question to him.
I think that “Who are you?” can actually be two completely different questions. The first is: Who are you? As in, who do you think you are? Hey you… crazy man… living in the wilderness, dressed in camel hair clothing, eating bugs… how dare you make these assertions, how dare you announce that the time our people have long awaited is now upon us. How dare you.
Notice that John doesn’t defend his position. To the contrary, he answers by telling them who is is not. He is not the christ, he is not a great prophet. Rather, he is just a voice of one crying out in the desert, trying to make straight the way. Furthermore, he answers with great humility. He declares that the one he is announcing is far, far greater than he could ever be. He notes that he is not even fit for the lowliest of jobs, of untying the laces of his sandal.
The second form of question is: Who are you? As in, do I know you? You’re not from around here, are you? You make these gigantic claims, then ask us to believe you’re credible… yet we have no idea who you even are.
This second type of question is more tricky and it is the one that I’ve been pondering. A lot. The reason? Matthew Chapter 7 is the reason. In Matthew’s Gospel, in the seventh chapter, there is a small section entitled the The True Disciple. The entirety of the bible is about discipleship… yet here in this one, small section lies the clue to true discipleship.
Here, Jesus is talking about the moment when we pass from this life to the next, when we stand before him and make our case. On that day, many will say: Didn’t we do a pretty good job? Didn’t we prophesy in your name? Didn’t we do mighty deeds in your name? And Jesus will say to them: “I never knew you. Depart from me.”
“I never knew you.”
Jesus is saying that the ultimate test at that point, the point we all will come to… is whether he actually knows us or not. Or whether we were strangers to him. In that moment, we could say: I went to Mass, I did all the sacraments, I did a pretty good job, didn’t I?
All that may be true, but if we did not have true relationship with him, if we did not believe in and abide by the lessons of the beatitudes, if we did not surrender everything over to him, if we did not spend the time necessary to build a relationship… then in that moment, when we are asked the question… well, then what?
We will all stand in that moment. Alone and before him. And he will ask a simple question: Who are you?
How will we answer?