“Just who do you think you are?” Now there’s a question that has been posed and pointed more than a few times. Usually it is a weaponized question of sorts, laden with accusation, or it is a declaration aimed at someone’s preposterous behavior. Nevertheless, I think it is an essential question of spiritual identity.
Consider the writer of the New Testament book commonly known as “John.” Tradition holds that this Gospel was written by the disciple John, one of Jesus’ closest associates, though the writer, mysteriously, never identifies himself by name.
If I had written a book that was an eyewitness account of the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth, you can bet that I would have signed it — as gigantic as John Hancock — but John the Disciple did not. He used a different signature. He used an alias, a pen name tagged: “The one Jesus loved.”
Why such a moniker? The leading explanation is that because John wrote his gospel some time later than the other three, persecution had set in against the church. Thus, for John to give his actual name would have meant persecution, censure, or even death. Another theory is that John was being a bit arrogant. He was Jesus’ favorite, so goes this theory, and he was rubbing others’ noses in it.
But I don’t think John was hiding his identity or flaunting his supremacy in the band of Jesus’ merry men. I think he was playing another creative game altogether; he was using a literary device to force his readers to take hold of the core meaning of what it means to be in relationship with Jesus Christ. He was asking the question, “Just who do you think you are?”
John understood that his core identity was directly connected to the love Christ had for him. So much so, that he did not think of himself as a fisherman, a disciple, an apostle, a Gospel writer, or a Church Father. He was simply one who was supremely loved. That’s who he was, and the exact identity he wanted us, his readers, to embrace.
We are no longer just names or anonymous faces. We are not defined by occupation, label, race, nationality, failure, our family of origin, culture, popularity, or the ancillary chorus of the voices around us. We are simply the Ones Jesus Loves. This is our identity and who we really are. Is this too much to understand? Probably so. But I don’t have to understand it to accept it, embrace it, and live it.
I don’t understand the science of how the sun can be 93 million miles away, provide life-giving light and heat to this planet, and keep our solar system from devolving into chaos, but I believe it, and I experience its light and heat every day. I don’t understand Newton’s Law of Gravitation or Einstein’s later Theory of Relativity, but I know these things keep my feet grounded on planet earth every day, and anchor me within this time and space.
I don’t understand how oxygen is processed by the bronchial tubes in my lungs, but my lack of understanding doesn’t keep me from breathing! I don’t understand the strange affection we have for puppies, the passion I feel for football, the satisfaction that comes from being with those whom I care about, or the serenity in my soul produced by sitting on top of a mountain or seeing the Gulf of Mexico on a cold, winter day.
I understand very little about these things. But I still experience all of these richly and deeply, and these experiences make me alive. Can’t God’s love in Christ work the same way? As a shining light, a grounding force, a sustaining atmosphere; an affection, passion, and serenity that gives us life and meaning?
No, we can only understand bits and piece of it all, but our lack of complete knowledge should not prevent us from believing and living this fact: We are unconditionally and eternally adored by God. We are, indeed, the Ones Jesus Loves.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.