Last week, I warned against being defined by your sexual orientation or history. This raises a central issue, going far beyond sexual orientation: how do we define ourselves? We live in a world with a wealth of competing identities, and it’s easy to define ourselves by something incidental, or at least, something non-central. For example, are you a Republican (or whatever) who happens to be Catholic, or a Catholic who happens to be a Republican? For that matter, are you an American who happens to be Catholic, or a Catholic who happens to be an American? When Catholicism sits uneasily with your political party, or the national ethos or zeitgeist, what wins out? What description best captures who you really are?
|Wolf Traut, The Baptism of Christ with Donor Portrait
of a Kneeling Cistercian Monk (1517)
This question of identity runs throughout the New Testament, as people try to figure out what to make of Jesus of Nazareth. How should we understand who He is? The Father gives the definitive answer in His Baptism: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (2 Peter 1:17; see Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). The Father repeats this assessment of the Son at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5). So even with Jesus Christ, His identity is founded in being the Son of the Father.
The devil sets out immediately after the Baptism of Christ, seeking to undermine Jesus’ identity. We see this clearly in the temptations in the desert. The devil’s opening challenge is: “If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread” (Luke 4:3). At the top of the Temple in Jerusalem, he continues this theme: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here” (Luke 4:9). This isn’t about bread or miracles. It’s about the Son’s trust in the Father, and His trust in His own Sonship. Will Jesus try to save Himself? Or will He trust that He is the Son of God, and will be taken care of by the Father?
Obviously, Satan fails to get Christ to lose confidence in the Father, or to lose confidence in His Sonship. But Satan continues to pester Him, right up until the Cross, where the onlookers sneer, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matthew 27:40), a sentiment echoed by the chief priests and elders: “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him; for he said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (Matthew 27:43).
But Christ resolutely holds to His identity as the Son of the Father. This is a model for us, “for all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:14). This is the identity that should be central, and the identity that we should cling to.
There’s a slightly different way of approaching this, by considering a different point in the Gospel: Matthew 16:13-20. We generally consider this passage for its implications for the papacy, since it’s here that Christ declares that He will build His Church upon Peter. But that blessing arises out of an important discussion on the identity of Christ. When Christ asks, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15), Peter responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Mt. 16:16). This answer is inspired, literally (Christ says as much in Mt. 16:17). And it should be a model for us, since we have been baptized into Christ (Galatians 3:27). If that’s the case, then if I ask, “But who do you say that you are?” you should answer confidently: “I am a Christian, a child of the living God.”
That’s your most central identity, because that’s who God made you to be.