Who am I?
The confusion over personal identity is still a part of living in the contemporary world. It began with the eroding of biblical truth in the Enlightenment, became a “pop” issue beginning in the nineteen sixties (young people trekking around the word trying to “find themselves”), and in our day is reinforced by broken families, the broken global economy, and a whole bunch of other broken things that (tragically) we have simply come to accept as “normal”.
In the ancient world your identity was given to you (either as you gradually became aware of your place in society or at some formal societal event (for instance, a bar-mitzvah). It was something that enabled you to find your coordinates for living well and anchored your sense of belonging and personhood.
However in the modern world identity is something that you achieve. Hence when you enter into conversation the leading question is “What do you do?” It is our work and our career that now primarily identifies who we are (and why our work and career are so foundational to our sense of identity and selfhood). The “Who are you” is replaced by “What are you” and nothing could make our identities more fragile (if you lose your career, or never have one, you lose your sense of selfhood and personhood).
This is why in scripture genealogies are so important (in contrast to western society where few can go further back than three or four generations—and don’t even see the need to do so). But in the ancient world genealogies were crucial, they “located you” in society (no need to go off and “find” yourself) and gave you roots and a strong sense of belonging.
For those of us who have lived in the two-thirds world this is reinforced on a daily basis as in casual conversation between “locals “the leading question is not “What do you do” or “Where are you from” but “Who are you from”. And answering that question immediately enables them to locate you in society (family names are well known, even in cities) and reinforces your own sense of personhood and belonging.
The good news of the Gospel is that in an age where people struggle to “find themselves” Jesus offers us an identity within the trinitarian family as his beloved children. He gives us identity and value, we don’t have to achieve it, find it, or simply embrace the nihilism that tells us that we no more than the shrapnel from the big bang.
Jesus said “even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from (= ‘who I am’) and where i am going” (John 8:14). And this is a gift. Knowing where you came from and where you are going answers the “Who am I question” and enables us to live in peace and joy.
The Gospel offers much more, but if it only offered this it would still be the pearl of great price.