Who I Am
Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They answered, “John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Messiah of God.” – Luke 9:18-20 (NRSV)
In this era of digital life, where we can craft unique and partial (or wholly fictional) identities through online platforms, “Who do people say that I am?” is almost a rhetorical question. People might say I am healthy if I digitally tell them I am through posted pictures of super-food meals. (They don’t and I’m not.) People may say I am a spiritual leader if I digitally tell them I am, by quoting my own religious writing.
“Who does Google say that I am?” can be a more revealing question, depending on what the interwebs know about you: your past, your present, your finances, your family, your secrets, your critics. Google has the possibility of sharing a more complex representation of identity, compared to the controlled narrative we might carefully hone on specific digital platforms.
Jesus takes a Google poll of the disciples about his public image. The answers vary—John the Baptist, Elijah, an ancient prophet—but in essence, there is consensus on the public’s image of Jesus: he’s a dead religious guy who’s been resurrected. How ironic. Even Herod shares this impression of who Jesus is (Luke 9:7-9).
But the follow-up question—the truly essential question of the day—is the relational one: Who do you say that I am?
People might always be inclined to speculate about one another’s identities. And we might always be inclined to (try to) shape our public image with specific, singular narratives. But who we are, most truly, shows up in the ways we relate to each other.
Prayer: Let people talk and invent their own stories of me, but God I pray: let me not care, so long as I am true to the Holy within me and the Holy within my neighbor.
cross-posted with the Daily Devotional
When Jesus came to the [sycamore tree], he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to the guest of one who is a sinner.” – Luke 19:5-7 (NRSV)
The point of sin, as I understood it growing up in church, was to shame you into right living. Without sins—especially inherent, unavoidable, emotional sins like pride and anger and (Lord have mercy) sexual thoughts—how would we know that God was so much better than us or that Jesus’ death was the reason to feel unworthy of God’s love?
How dare Zacchaeus, sinner that he was, skip right past shame and embrace happiness!
How dare Zacchaeus nab Jesus’ attention from the branches of a tree, instead of waiting in line like everyone else!
How dare he and his friends enjoy a good meal with the holy teacher whose presence was the hottest ticket in town!
There are systems, you see, for being redeemed by God and redeemed in society: religious rituals and social manners that must be honored, special prayers to say and certain pedigrees to respect, penance that must be served spiritually and judgment that must be endured politely before daring to go about the world with garish exuberance.
Look at Zacchaeus, laughing with crumbs in his beard! Look at Jesus, relaxed and joyful at Zacchaeus’ table!
Would that we were as easily delighted as they: that we shouted every hallelujah and roared with every gratitude; that we no longer held shame dutifully to get on God’s good side but embraced healing with pleasure; that we applauded every Zacchaeus who showed us the way.
Prayer: Perhaps today I will climb a tree, dear Jesus. Even if I don’t make it to the first branch, please set me free from social shame and welcome me into unlimited joy.
published with the Daily Devotional
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