29th June 2014
Who am I?
Many people searching for God are also searching for their own identity. They find it difficult to believe that they are only a collection of chemicals, or that they are only a product of their genes and their circumstances, a link in a mindless chain of cause and effect that seems to have begun with the big bang. The received wisdom about evolution presents the process as mechanical and meaningless, dependent upon accident and random mutations, resulting in a world where the main aim of life is to pass on your genes and only the fittest survive. ‘Value’ seems to be assigned in a rather arbitrary fashion: what people regard as important varies widely across the globe. In such a world, who am I? Have I any value or importance at all? Or am I worthless, a waste of space?
It helps if you are surrounded by people who value you. People may feel valued as they receive love and attention; or the boot may be on the other foot, and they feel valued for what they give to others. But even when people value you, you may still be searching for an identity – you may want to feel more deserving of the attention you receive, or to feel that you are valued for more than what you have to give.
Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 10 opens up another way of looking at this question. It talks about rewards, and lots of people question the rightness of such teaching, assuming that Jesus is being a little bit mercenary: do the right thing and get paid for it. However, it is more about valuing what is good – the ‘rewards’ are simply the recognition of value. The surprising thing is that Jesus is not talking about the rewards for being a prophet or being righteous; the rewards are given to those who respond to the prophet or the righteous person. Their recognition and welcome of those who are valued by God puts them on the same level in God’s eyes, and he counts them as worthy of the same treatment that the holiest people deserve – even though they themselves are neither prophets nor ‘righteous’. Jesus goes further: rewards are given to those who do the smallest service to the least deserving of his people – not as ‘payment’ for their service, but in recognition of the fact that they are identifying, and identifying with, Jesus’ disciples.
What lies behind this is the whole question of identity. The prophet, the righteous person, the smallest disciple, are people with whom God identifies: those who respond to them are responding to God himself. The identity of those being welcomed or helped is not tied up with who they are as human beings. It is who they are in relationship with Jesus that counts more than anything else. Those who are disciples of Jesus, who have accepted him as Lord and Saviour and follow his way, are all people with whom God identifies fully, who are in a way extensions of him, so that whatever happens to them is felt deeply and fully by God himself. (Those of us who have strong ties of love with people who are in difficult circumstances have a similar feeling.)
Other passages in the New Testament explain things more fully. They talk about our being ‘baptized into Christ’, ‘believing into Christ’, so that now we are ‘in Christ’, united to him, limbs of his body as it were. It has real effects: united to him means that we are united both to his history and to his person. Christ’s history includes his righteous life, suffering and death on a cross, and his subsequent resurrection and ascension to the highest place in heaven. We share the benefits of all that, just as a poor person united in marriage to someone who has worked themselves into great wealth shares the benefits of their spouse’s history. Christ’s person includes his being the Son of God, who has eternal life; united with him, we too have become eternal children of God. St Paul tells us that when Jesus ‘appears’ – is seen for who he really is – we too shall appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:4).
Who am I? If I am a creature made by God, I am a valued part of his creation, cared for by the God who is there whenever the smallest sparrow falls to the ground. If I am a human being, I am even more special, since I have been made in the image of God. If I am a Christian, I am royal family, adopted by God and put on the same level as Jesus Christ! Yes, only Jesus is the God the Son, the Lord of all; yet the Bible describes us as ‘co-inheritors’ with Christ! What amazing grace!
1) How can we more fully appreciate who we are?
2) What would you say to someone who declared that they were a waste of space ?