Google lists “Who am I?” at the top of its most searched questions with the word “who” in it (“Who escaped from Alcatraz?” ranks number eight). People spend countless hours listening to motivational speakers and many dollars on self-discovery retreats, seeking an answer to this foundational question: Who am I? In our day, the topic of identity can trigger heated debates and upend a casual conversation. People can place their identity in their work, their love(s), hobbies, habits, and even the concerts they’ve attended. Do these people or things really provide an adequate anchor for our identity?
To root our identity – the heart and core of our identity – in family history, work, hobbies, or our pet ownership (“I’m a dog person” or “I’m a goat person”) courts danger. What happens when the family goes through a season of disruption? What happens when the job doesn’t work out? What happens when you can’t do the hobby you love or your favorite band breaks up? If we ground and root our lives in these passing things, they do not last and they often limit the horizon of our personality.
Of course, this is a blog by a Catholic priest, so you knew a transition to Jesus would happen eventually. Buckle up: this is that moment. Jesus did not ground his identity in his family’s approval, work, accomplishments or “failures.”
Family: “When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him [Jesus], for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind’” (Mark 3:21). (Jesus didn’t stop his ministry though)
Work: “He came to his hometown and began to teach...they were astounded and said, […] ‘is not this the carpenter’s son.’ […] And they took offense at him” (Matthew 13:54-55, 57).
Accomplishments: “The Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Fatherdoing” (John 5:19)
“Failures”: (After he’s betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, beaten, deserted by many of his disciples, crucified and at the point of death with everything seemingly lost, Jesus makes this prayer) “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
When some of his family thought he was out of his mind, he kept moving forward. When people dismissed him because he was no longer doing carpentry work as they thought he should, he kept moving forward. When he succeeded, he didn’t get lost in self-congratulations but kept his heart on the Father’s will. When he had absolutely nothing left and it looked like his public ministry was a colossal failure, he commended all of it to his heavenly Father in trust. And, in that relationship with his heavenly Father we find the true anchor of Jesus’ identity, an anchor that granted him inner strength to endure persecution and remain in hope throughout his life and even in dying.
With Jesus’ baptism we have a window into the foundation of Jesus’ identity and mission:
“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’” (Mark 1:9-11).
We see in this passage an ikon (ikon in the Byzantine Catholic sense of “window into eternity”) of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Son takes to himself our humanity and enters the waters that represent the cleansing of our sinfulness through the incarnate Son. The Heavens are opened by this saving grace, and the Father’s lavish generosity pours forth upon redeemed humanity in Christ His perfect Gift of Gifts, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit anoints Jesus Christ and the Father speaks from eternity into eternity the truth of the Son’s identity and our own in Jesus: You are my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased. Through faith and baptism, we enter into the life of Christ who lives his life in us. In some ways, the trajectory of Jesus’ entire life and ministry points towards this adoption into the Father’s heart:
“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ – if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:15-17).
God the Father did not make a mistake when you came to have faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior, Redeemer, Healer, and Lord. Paul writes that the Father “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world/cosmos...He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of His will” (Ephesians 1:4, 5). Spend time in this truth about who you are in the Father’s heart through Jesus Christ...He sent Jesus Christ to redeem us because He wants us as His children so that He can lavish his love upon us (Eph. 1:8). Because of Jesus’ saving grace in our lives, we receive the Holy Spirit who dwells within us and reveals our sonship/daughtership in Christ. This relationship is not founded on our efforts but, first and foremost, on the will of the Father. It is from this relationship we see revealed our truest, deepest, surest identity.
When we step into a life in which we find our identity not in passing things, nor even in some excavated awareness of our self, but in the relationship with the Father through Jesus by the Holy Spirit, it is then that the immeasurable glory for which we are meant unfurls like a banner of love over our lives. The Father’s love through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit is not some mystical, sage aphorism meant to be stenciled on shiplap and forgotten in the attic five years from now. The Father’s love, our adoption into His family, our being seated with and in Christ at the Father’s right hand (Eph. 1:20; 2:6), radically transforms us from the inside-out and ushers us towards a royal existence in the Heavenly Kingdom. When our mission flows from our identity rooted and grounded in the love of the Father through Jesus Christ (Eph. 3:17), then we don’t fear His judgment nor other’s aspersions, we keep our eyes on what the Father is doing and joyfully persevere in faithfulness (Colossians 1:11).
Who are you? If you’ve allowed some-thing to take your identity out of the Father’s relationship He set for you in Christ Jesus, then joyfully repent in gratitude. I encourage a joyful repentance and not a “worldly sorrow” that turns us in on ourselves and forgets the gracious mercy of the Father (2 Corinthians 6:9-10). Simply apologize and turn to Jesus and ask the Holy Spirit to grant you a deeper revelation about who you are in the Father’s eyes. Simple. Easy. Awesome! You can live in this union with the Father through Jesus Christ. When we read the Scriptures – especially spending time with the Gospels – then we see unveiled for us what an identity grounded in the Father’s love looks like. This belongs to us as disciples of Jesus. Rejoice!
Fr. Jacob Bearer is a Catholic priest. He's about 6' to 6'4'' tall depending on which Convenient Store he's exiting. Although he enjoys kidney beans in chili, Fr. Jacob does not like baked beans and counts this as one of the toughest blotches on his character. He's been the administrator of SS. Edward's and Lucy's since January of 2022. Thank God for the Hatchery...this is a place where the author can share thoughts and ideas that don't quite seem right for the bulletin and won't exactly make for a homily (except for the times when the homily is posted with a sound file or used for a blog post). God bless you...and the hatchery.
SS. Edward & Lucy Parish
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