We have a tendency to define ourselves by what we do.
One of the first things I am often asked upon meeting someone is if I am teaching. When I answer in the negative, the listener typically assumes that I am still going to school to be trained as a teacher. It can be surprising for them to hear that I have taught before but am not teaching now, that I am helping some with our Openlight Media products but am mostly just helping around the convent.
Our production-based culture is confused even by a religious Sister who doesn’t seem to have a clear “job.”
These experiences have led me to reflect on my own tendency to value “doing” over “being.” How easy it is to fall into the trap of finding my identity and my worth in what I do instead of in who I am.
I wonder what people thought about Jesus when He left work as a carpenter to become an itinerant preacher, even though he was not trained as a rabbi. The Scriptures record that some of His relatives thought He was “out of His mind” (Mark 3:21c). Perhaps many others thought so, too.
Surely the majority thought of Him as a complete failure when that preaching mission ended with His being stripped of everything, cruelly tortured, and executed on the Cross. To the world, it looked as if His ministry had been entirely ineffectual and as if He was utterly helpless to do anything at that moment or ever again. And yet it was here on the Cross that His power was most manifest, as He defeated sin and death. Thus, St. Paul could exclaim, “The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 1:25).
Jesus knew His identity all along: He was the Son of God the Father, God Himself. “Whoever has seen Me,” He said, “has seen the Father” (John 14:9b). He did not equate His identity with what He did, but rather pointed to His “works” as revealing His identity and calling forth belief in Him (cf. John 10:38). He knew Who and Whose He was.
As baptized Christians, you and I have been made sons and daughters of God the Father in Christ Jesus. We are chosen, redeemed, sanctified. Our life is “hidden with Christ in God,” because we “have died” with Him through our Baptism, which is itself His gift to us (see Colossians 3:3). We are brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ and temples of the Holy Spirit. It is not what we do that identifies us but rather Christ Himself!
As we prepare to enter into Holy Week, let our focus be not so much on what we do for the Lord as on what He has done for us – suffered, died, and risen to save us. And let us also remember who He has made us to be – chosen and precious sons and daughters of the Father.
Sr. Mary Martha Becnel is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.