About 20 years ago, I had a significant health scare. I was hospitalized and could not work for a while. After the initial shock and when I had stabilized, I could not wait to get back to work, even against the wishes of my doctor and of my wife, Pam. It’s not that I loved my job as much as all that. You see, so much of my identity was built on my being a worker and provider for my family. I was terrified that I would lose that identity, of which, deep down, I was proud.
Have you ever felt your identity threatened? The deep down foundation of who you tell yourself you are, beyond your name and what it says on your driver’s license? How did you react?
That is what is happening in today’s Gospel. The Jewish people are the people of God, the Chosen ones. Their history, culture, and purpose was given to them by God and was reinforced by their worship and the rituals of daily life.
Then Jesus comes to change things up a bit. Not to change that identity or overthrow their purpose but to fulfill it. He speaks gracious words and that is fine, but then Jesus changes the narrative and puts a different spin on the great prophets Elijah and Elisha in a way that threatens the Jewish identity as the only beloved people of God. As you heard, the community reacted violently to what they perceived as a threat to the deepest level of their identity and tried to push Jesus off a cliff.
So, what is your identity, the deepest level, the foundation of who you tell yourself you are? And is that foundation built on bedrock? Because Jesus is here today and he might just want to change things up a bit. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Is your identity built on your social status, your gender, your education, your family? Is your identity built on your marriage or your family, or perhaps on your occupation- Engineer, Social Worker, Scientist, Salesman, Pre-school teacher? Athlete or Scholar? Is your identity as a Christian- a follower of Jesus Christ? All these are good.
We are all searching for our identity and our place in life. But above all this is Jesus. Jesus who radically expanded the definition of the chosen people. Jesus is here and became human to show us our true worth. Our true worth as children of God. The world and the devil may try to tell us who we are and what we are capable of. Jesus believes something entirely different. Today Jesus is saying “Let me remind you who you really are.” “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you” we heard from the prophet Jeremiah. Certainly Jesus knew and loved you before you became an Engineer or a Pre-School teacher. Knowing that can be unsettling.
The issue with identifying ourselves solely with whatever we are in this life is that we were not made for this world; our ultimate goal is to be united with God eternally in heaven. By identifying ourselves as children of God we acknowledge what we were created for and can live life knowing that we all are destined for something greater. We have a state of life today but ultimately our identity lies in doing the will of our Father.
What happens when we find our identity in Jesus Christ? For one, you can more easily surrender yourself to his will. After all, if your worth is backed up by an eternal and all powerful God, you can never become worthless no matter what happens in this life. Even if something happens and you can’t work to provide for your family.
Another benefit is that we can see the worth of other people- other children of God, truly our brothers and sisters. We see in them the image of God in which we were all created. Backed up by the same eternal God, their worth is inviolable, no matter what their occupation, state of life, or how inconvenient they may be.
The human identities we cling to, that we may be proud of, are not meaningful. What is significant is how God defines us as members of God’s family, radically expanded beyond the human categories from which we draw meaning. Our identities, except that of beloved child, do not matter to God. This means that we stand against sexism, racism and all forms of oppression. In God’s family we transcend categories and ground our identity on the solid rock of Christ, our brother.
When we listen to the gospel, we listen with an open heart and mind. The Church will guide us and teach us. The Holy Spirit will instruct us in all things and help us discern how to respond to the gospel in our lives. The one thing we do not want to do is to push Jesus to the edge of the cliff lest he pass through our midst and slip away. Jesus’ teaching calls for a conversion of heart. Now we know each other partially; by grace and conversion we shall see each other fully, as children of God, as we are fully known.