It starts early – trying to discern what you are supposed to do with your life. Kids are placed in the most competitive schools so they get an advantage. But so often, even the brightest most competitive kids wake up in their early 20’s and say: “Who am I?” “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?”
Empty nesters – once the house is quiet – “Who am I?” My mother often says, “As much as I loved being home and raising you and your brothers, YOU were my credentials, my identity and once you left… who am I?”
We all know about the mid-life crisis: “Who am I now that I can’t keep up with the 30-year-olds. Maybe I will buy a red Ferrari!”
Retirement – who am I in this new reality where I am no longer identified by my job?
And then of course, as we face our mortality this question looms large – who am I? What is my legacy? Have I accomplished anything?
And really, I think, beneath and in the shadows of these identity questions is a question of ultimate concern: who is God? Where is God? The question of personal identity is always intertwined with the question of the divine identity.
The “transfiguration” of Jesus where he took Peter, James and John up the mountain and became illuminated – so dazzling was he – kind of like Beyonce at half-time of the Super Bowl… and Moses and Elijah appeared with him.
Who is Jesus? – well, at least of the status of Moses and Elijah – the founder of the faith and the prophet. Who is Jesus? – well the voice of God proclaims: “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him!” As a Christian, this is true for me: Jesus is the Son of God, worthy of the name, worthy to be listened to and followed.
But this declaration and light show on the mountaintop is really the answer to the question raised a bit earlier in the 9th chapter. Just 8 days before, after John the Baptist has been beheaded and Jesus has fed the five thousand on five loaves and two fish, Jesus asks Peter: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” and “Who do YOU say that I am?” (vs. 18-20) I believe he really wants to know because he is unsure.
Jesus is going through his own identity crisis. And like ours, Jesus’ identity crisis is a life-long affair – with mountain top revelations and valleys of the shadow where very little is clear.
New Testament students have always asked the question: when did Jesus know he was the Son of God? In Mark, the baptism is the moment. In Luke and Matthew, the birth reveals the divine identity. In John, Jesus is the pre-existent “WORD” made flesh. Theologically all are meaningful, none of them are wrong.
But I wonder. Think of it: Jesus is tempted in the wilderness: Who am I? What is my mission going to be?
Imagine it: at the well with the woman – “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel!” But that woman agitates Jesus deeply. He begins to see a larger mission and extended boundaries.
Picture it: in the garden of Gethsemane Christ says: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.” In Luke we are told that he sweats blood over this. So maybe he goes to the cross wondering.
How does that sit with you? For me, these are essential indications of Jesus being the son of God – that his answer in the wilderness and in the garden and on the cross – is not the macho “Bring it on!” but “Thy will be done!”
On this Sunday before the Season of Lent – you and I are asked to ponder these questions: “Who is Jesus?” and “Who are you?” These two questions always converge. For as Christians we find our identity in his.
In the wilderness of your existence you have to weigh and discern and make decisions all the time. And the temptations you face are not often between an obvious good and an obnoxious bad. That’s not discernment, that’s common sense. You choose between two possible goods: do I go to this school or that school. Do I take this treatment or that treatment, or no treatment? Do I commit to this, or to that, or say NO?
Are you vulnerable enough, like Jesus, to ask others for some honest answers: “Who do people say that I am? “Who do you say that I am?” What gifts do you see in me? For I am looking through a glass darkly, sometimes!
Most of the time we don’t know what is out there. We live in the shadowlands. We make choices and take paths with little certainty. Things happen over which we have no control. That is life. BUT, as Christians, you have this promise – God loves you. You are gifted, and known, you ARE worthy.
It is good to remember Jesus – who walked the path, and made the decision: “Yet, not my will but thine.” This is why I call myself a Christian because we have a narrative of God revealing the divine self in human form. I have a promise that I don’t need to fear death. No matter where I find yourself: in heaven or in Sheol, at the farthest limits of the sea, on in the deepest darkness – GOD is.
Who is Jesus? I am glad that Jesus is standing with Elijah and Moses – two others who muddled through. Standing beside Peter, poor Peter – but he is the Rock! I know Christ to be both prophet and law giver, Savior and Lord.
Let me close by telling you about Dietrich Bonhoeffer – a pastor and theologian killed by the Nazis, implicated in the plot to kill Hitler. He wrote a poem during his last days in prison entitled “Who Am I?”
Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.
Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectations of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.
Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!
Who Am I? I am many things – not all of them good – but I will cling as long as I live to the promise of our faith, and the memory of many encounters – that drew me out and drew me past – up the hillside– so that, for at least for a moment, I could catch a glimpse before descending into the cloud once again, pressing on.
Who are you? Look to Jesus on the hillside, shining in all glory with Elijah and Moses – soon to come down the hill, and into the crowds. Soon to enter Jerusalem, soon to be in the garden, soon to be on the cross, soon to be in the tomb… soon to be alive and free.
“This is the Son, the Christ, the Chosen – Listen to Him!” as you move into your identity crises!