Identity

Identity

“Now they came to Jericho. As He went out of Jericho with His disciples and a great multitude, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the road begging” (Mark 10:46 NKJV).

When I apply for visas for South Asian countries or fill out immigration forms to enter those countries I always notice that they ask for my father’s name. As one who is well past middle age, and whose father has been deceased for over 20 years, I find that a little strange. But there is still much of the world where family linage is the most, or one of the most, definitive characteristics of one’s identity.

This was perhaps even more true in the Biblical world. The prefix “bar” or “ben” simply means “son of” (e.g. Barabbas, Barzillai, Barsabas, Bartholomew; Benjamin, Ben Hadad).  Sometimes this idea was given a symbolic twist, as in Barnabas (“son of consolation”) or Benoni (“son of my sorrow”), but the predominant custom was to name a son after his father, much as we use the addition “Junior.”

In the story of Mark 10, the man whom Jesus healed in Jericho is identified by three characteristics or practices (four if one includes his location, Jericho). He was the son of Timaeus, he was blind, and he was a beggar. Those three facts provided him with identity; they described him definitively to his neighbors, and continue to identify him particularly and exclusively to all readers of the Bible. There is only one person who fits that description.

A thoughtful reader might ask, “Is that how Bartimaeus viewed himself?” When he thought of “me” did “blind”, “son of” and “beggar” immediately come to mind? Or were there accomplishments, dreams, desires, or goals which replaced these?

This thought leads to the follow-up, “How do others define me? How do I define myself?”  I recently heard some sports analysts discuss a football player’s statement that “I should be the defensive player of the year.”  The consensus was that no one else agreed with him; nevertheless, that was who he viewed himself as being.

There is value in identifying oneself in context of family, country, culture, and even to some degree with accomplishments. Yet are any of those things the most important feature of self?

Peter suggests a different element: “But you are . . . His own special people . . . who once were not a people but are now the people of God” (1 Peter 2:9-10). Genuine identity is based on our relationship with God. Until we have received mercy and been reconciled to him (Ephesians 2:16) we are nobody. That is the sense of being “not a people.” It is not a matter of being bad, or worthless, or even lost – Peter claims that without God we don’t actually exist in any substantive and permanent sense.

But Christ searches for us and finds us when we by faith turn to him and accept him through obedience to the Gospel message (Romans 6:17). He gives us life (Romans 8:11) and person-hood (identity). Because of his sacrifice and love, we become somebody (Colossians 3:3-4). When he appears we also will appear “in glory.” Not the glory of our own worth or ability, but the glory bestowed by the resurrected and victorious Christ. Now that is an identity worth possessing.

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Michael Brooks

Since 1988 Mike and his wife Brenda have been involved in foreign missions in South America, Africa, and South Asia. Beginning in 1999 they devoted full time to missions, primarily in Bangladesh and Nepal.

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