by Barry Newton
“Who are you? I really want to know!” CSI’s theme song from The Who just seems to jump out at us. After all, not only do we live our lives under the shadow of who we are or who we are becoming, but our relationships revolve around understanding who others are.
Upon making an acquaintance, we typically exchange names first. Then if opportunity allows we dig deeper. Usually inquiries and sharing of one’s own activities, achievements, titles, and acquisitions will casually occur.
Where do you work? I’m a manager at ABC Bank.
Perhaps after someone has shared an impressive story, the other responds, “That reminds me about our trip to Europe last year.”
Even more revealing about identity, if we are honest, are our private thoughts. Who are we? Do we answer this question by quickly listing our activities, achievements, titles, and acquisitions?
In John 13 Jesus provides us a brief glimpse into a completely different way to live. Not only does Jesus’ model release us from rooting ourselves in the uncertainty and change under the sun, but it reveals a motivation and a way to live that promises a blessing.
“Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, he got up from the meal, removed his outer clothes, took a towel and tied it around himself” (John 13:3,4 NET).
To use John’s language, Jesus knew that he was the Word, that he was with God and was God, that he became flesh dwelling among humanity. Jesus knew that he was the light and life the Father had sent into the world because he loves people so. Jesus knew that when he would be lifted up he would draw all people to himself. Jesus knew he was returning to his Father.
In short, John rivets our attention upon where Jesus drew his identity. The Son of God did not look to created things for his self-understanding, he looked to God and his work. Because Jesus knew he was the Son of the God, he prepared himself to serve in the most menial manner by washing feet. His identity lead to his service.
What about us? Who are we? If we serve others, what’s the motivation?
The Gospel of John invites us to become God’s children, born not from human effort, but born by God. We too are offered an identity rooted in God and which transcends the mundane and transitory.
Having served his disciple’s needs by washing their feet, Jesus said to them, “I have given you an example – you should do just as I have done for you. … If you understand these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:15,17).
Disciples serve, not to become someone, but to live out who they already are. If those born of God serve others, they will be blessed.