Some people make a name for themselves by their successes and achievements at work. We live in a culture in which our identity (who we are) is often defined by our occupation (what we do). When someone asks us, “What do you do,” we’re apt to say, “I’m a teacher,” or “I’m a software engineer,” or “I’m a stay-at-home-mom.” In this day and age, we assume that we are what we do.
And then there are other people in the world who make a name for themselves by their great failures and mistakes. Not only do we assume that we are what we do, but we too often believe that we are what we have done – especially the failures, the regrettable mistakes, the things we can’t go back and undo.
Every last one of us wants to know who we really are – not according to our deeds or our misdeeds, but according to the purposes and God. Who am I? Why am I here? What am I supposed to do with my life?
If you’ve ever found yourself asking such questions, you might want to look at Mark’s story of Jesus’ first appearance (Mark 1:9-13). According to Mark, the first thing that Jesus did, before he ever performed a single miracle or preached one word of a sermon, turned out to be the most important thing he could have done: he was baptized by John in the Jordan River. It was his defining moment. As he came up from the waters, the voice of God gave him his real name – “The Beloved.”
In that moment, Jesus knew that he would always be more than his accomplishments, more than his work, more than the criticisms that others had of him. He was God’s Beloved. Nothing could add to that name, and nothing could take it away. Trusting in that new identity, Jesus didn’t feel the need to win over the establishment or strive for acceptance or popularity. Instead, because he knew who he really was, he was free to go straight to the outcasts, the sinners, the failures and the deadbeats. He lived among them, showed them mercy in the name of God, and laid down his life for them.
When you are baptized, that same name is given to you. You, too, are God’s Beloved, despite the claims the world has put on your life, despite your failures and mistakes, and regardless of your accomplishments. You have been accepted by God and adopted into the family. But it is not enough to know who you are. The question that baptism asks of every one of us is this: what will you do about it? To whom, or to what purpose, will you offer your life, your gifts, your passions?