“Who are you?”: Authentic Answer, Appreciative Asking

posted Sep 6, 2018, 1:20 PM by Association United Campus Ministries   [ updated Sep 6, 2018, 1:24 PM ]

Has anyone ever asked you, “Who are you?” It’s an old question; it’s also a song by The Who. It can be a simple inquiry where the person is really asking why you are in their office and what you want from them. It can also be an existential question that can cut a person to the quick: “Who are you?” The fundamental questions behind it are, “Why are you here?” and “What’s your purpose?”

 If you aren’t ready for this query, you can feel suddenly unbalanced like a rug pulled from underneath you. Even if the person asking is well-intentioned, I believe our natural, knee-jerk response is to be defensive. Think of your last interview. These words probably hung in the air even if they aren’t said explicitly, and for most people interviews are a special kind of awful.

Enter John the Baptist and a whole gaggle of authority, priests and Levites sent by Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, John 1:19-34. They repeatedly asked who he was and what John had to say about himself. John was also a Levite. His father, Zechariah was a priest. John was a miracle baby born to an elderly mother. To add significance, an angel struck Zechariah mute during Elizabeth’s pregnancy, and he did not speak again until John was named. Given their questions, I doubt the authorities forgot John’s unique backstory.

Nevertheless, John was doing something new, and it was getting attention. People were coming from all over Judea to confess their sins and have John ritually wash them in the Jordan River.  It was an act of love; it was an act of forgiveness.

Then and now, love and forgiveness are conspicuous. John couldn’t hide them in the wilderness. You can’t hide them either. People will always be drawn to those who perform these acts of grace, and people will always ask, “Who are you?” to be doing it. They will probably be aggressive; they may even be unkind. However, we are called to be ready with an answer for our hope and respond with respectful humility (1 Peter 3:15-16).

What I like best about this passage is John’s matter-of-fact answer. He doesn’t point to himself but God. He defines himself by his work: crying out, making a path for the Lord, and preparing others to see him when he arrives by baptizing those who have changed their hearts and lives.

Like John, you also have a purpose. You probably weren’t born under exceptional circumstances like he was, but then again I meet walking miracles every day, people who were born so tiny and frail that they wouldn’t be here today if they were born in another time or place. But whatever your story is, God has a mission for you that is particular to you. He wants to use all of your experience, the good and the bad. He desires each of us to be ready witnesses, who, like John, will recognize Jesus among us and will testify to the Holy Spirit at work.

Know this: our authentic answers matter because the Holy Spirit can use them to pierce the hardest of hearts. Nowadays, prepared and practiced doesn’t usually translate to ‘authentic,’ but I submit that any story worth telling has an author who has developed, edited, polished, and practiced it with interested listeners. Furthermore, being prepared frees you to be appreciative of those who are asking, to respond in love instead of fear and defensiveness. So what will you say and who will you point to when asked, “Who are you?”

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