All over the world people seem to be searching for their “identity.” Some find it in religion, race or gangs, often with disastrous results. There are also others, especially the young, with very little sense of identity or self-esteem. Here too the result is sometimes tragic, issuing in violence or even suicide.
“Who am I?” remains for everyone an important question, with personal and social consequences. The Scripture readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter illustrate how early Christians found their true identity in the paschal mystery of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and how their discovery changed them and the course of history.
When asked by what power he had healed a crippled beggar near the Jerusalem temple, Peter, in Acts 4, replies that it was “in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.” The incident takes place shortly after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Peter, who before Jesus’ death had denied even knowing Jesus, now proclaims that there is healing and salvation only in Jesus’ name. He appeals to Jesus not as the miraculous healer or the prophet of God’s kingdom but rather as the one who was crucified and raised from the dead. The transformation that Peter underwent is most adequately explained by his experience of the risen Lord. Before Easter Peter was fearful and powerless. After Easter Peter became bold and powerful. He had found his true identity in the paschal mystery.
The reading from 1 John 3 insists that through Jesus’ death and resurrection “we are God’s children now.” Every part of that statement is important. As Christians we are not alone. Rather, we exist and find our identity in a community of faith, beside and with other children of God. We are not servants or mere creatures. We are now God’s own children, sharing in the dignity of the one whom we call the Son of God. Our identity is a present reality, not something that begins only when we die or experience some dramatic conversion. Being God’s children now is our truest and most basic identity as Christians, and here we can find meaning and direction in our lives.
The Gospel text for the Fourth Sunday of Easter is taken every year from the Good Shepherd discourse in John 10. The image of the good shepherd evokes feelings of mutual knowledge, trust and personal care with regard to the risen Jesus. He is the way by which we find safety and direction in our lives. The image of the flock elicits thoughts of the community formed by Jesus’ death and resurrection. What is striking about today’s excerpt is the repeated emphasis on Jesus as the good shepherd who willingly lays down his life for us. Our communal identity as Christians is shaped by the paschal mystery.
Identity is important. We need to know who we are and feel that we are part of something important. The Easter season provides an opportunity to consider our individual and communal identity in the light of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
• Who are you? What are your most important identity markers? Where does being a child of God fit in?
• How might the distinctive character of Christian identity as shaped by Jesus’ death and resurrection manifest itself in individual Christians and in Christian communities?
• How does the repeated emphasis on the paschal mystery affect your understanding of Christ as the Good Shepherd? In what senses is Jesus no ordinary shepherd?