A classic question that Jesus asks his disciples is, “Who do you say that I am?” That soul-searching question is a popular retreat theme that we all need to ponder.
From another perspective, what if you asked, “Who does Jesus say that I am?”
Rather than that courageous question we might be more comfortable asking, “What does Jesus want me to do?” It’s hard to resist our propensity to set a goal and get right to work on it. But that’s like starting out on a journey without looking both ways and deciding which direction to go.
But wait. He cautions us not to give into the temptation to earn our place on earth or in heaven by what we do. That’s the wrong way to discover who we truly are. That path caters to where the world convinces us to go. It steers us toward a false vision of the real person we are and our real value. That’s the wrong goal, as the ladder leaning against the wrong wall. Yes, work is necessary, but in the right direction, in God-inspired right order, specific and individual.
Why ask Jesus?
Why ask Jesus who we are? Because we can spend a lifetime in futile efforts to conform ourselves to the culture of this world. Working hard to attain someone else’s goal works against our true self. Instead of what God wants, we settle for living in a way that conforms to what is acceptable. It may get us attention, approval and love, but at what a price!
Why ask Jesus? He’s the one with all the right answers to our eternal happiness. He knows the destiny he created for our enjoyment and fulfillment. He longs to show us our true value and give us his vision and plan for our ultimate joy. His desires for us are far grander than we can imagine because he loves us more than anyone else ever can.
The people around us judge our value by what we do. They can’t help it any more than we can; that’s our human condition. We must ask for the grace to resist assigning dollar signs to a person’s value. This attitude adjustment reinforces our belief that Jesus sees our true value and loves us just as we are.
A better way
Jesus shows us a better way to live than earning our worth. Yes, work is involved, but well-chosen work. Jesus doesn’t perform a magic trick for us to admire and applaud, changing us into a perfect person who never sins or makes mistakes. He fills us with graces and works with us through our sins and mistakes to transform us into our true self. That transformation requires our cooperation and our surrender to him.
The question, “What does Jesus want me to do?” needs to come after we have opened our hearts, minds and souls to his answer to our question, “Who do you say that I am?” When we know that our value does not come from what we do, we are free to do what develops our true value. His answer is as unique as each of us and requires a depth of vulnerability and trust we’ve never experienced.
Listen well to his answer, for we are asking Jesus for his vision of who he created us to be for all eternity, not just for our life on earth today. We are asking for freedom from fear of rejection, shame of not being good enough and false pride of hiding our true self in the game of “go along to get along.”
Into our open heart, he pours his love. He looks us in the eye and gives us a glimpse of his vision of our true self. His fingers touch our fingers as he gives us the desire to believe in his plan for our unique self. He surrounds us with goodness.
Look both ways
Then he gives us a choice. Do we look both ways – conformity to the culture of the world or the freedom of joy everlasting — before deciding which direction to go? Do we want to embrace his vision of who he says we are? Are we willing to make changes in what we do? Are we ready to cooperate with his grace to make his will for us happen?
He’s not a puppet master who forces us to become who he created us to be in him. Neither does he leave us on our own to attain an impossible goal. He invites us into his plan for us as a loving father sets forth his vision for a child who is confused, frustrated and veering off the path to true happiness. His gives us gifts of wisdom, perseverance and peace. The choice is ours. The joyful work begins.
“And I will trust in you alone
And I will trust in your alone.
For your endless mercy follows me.
Your goodness will lead me home.”
(Chorus from The Lord’s My Shepherd by Stuart Townsend)
Who does Jesus say that you are?
(© 2015 Nancy HC Ward)