Jesus said to the Jews, “How can you believe since you look to one another for approval and are not concerned with the approval that comes from the one God?” This is the real reason for the failure in credibility. Many of us are afraid to be who we are because we allow people to define us rather than we define ourselves according to the identity that God has given to us. As a consequence, we lack authenticity in the way we live our lives. For Jesus, He said, “as for human approval, this means nothing to me.” For Jesus, His heart is with God.
What are the factors that prevent us from living in authenticity? The primary factor is forgetfulness. We forget first and foremost our identity and our privileges. This was the case of the Hebrews. They were slaves in Egypt but God chose them out of all peoples to be His chosen people. Moses reminded the people, “It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you – for you were the fewest of all peoples. It was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery.” (Dt 7:7f) Israel was blessed by God and loved by Him.
We too often forget our identity in life. We forget the privileges we have received. We take them for granted. We think that what we have and the blessings we are enjoying are owed to us, like our health, wealth, comforts, luxuries, job and even positions in society. We think we have earned them. Most of all, we take our faith for granted and our Christian vocation. The truth is that all these could be taken away. Many in the world are deprived of such privileges that we are enjoying. When we do not live up to our identity and calling because we take such privileges for granted, we will abuse our positions in life.
As a consequence, we forget our calling, goal and vision. The Lord had given the Promised Land to the Israelites so that they could be a model nation and be a light to humanity. “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” (Isa 42:1) Again the prophet said, “I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” (Isa 42:7) They lived for themselves and not for God and for others. That is why Jesus remarked, “Besides, I know you too well; you have no love of God in you. I have come in the name of my Father and you refuse to accept me; if someone else comes in his own name you will accept him.”
This is always the case for those of us who have taken our privileges for granted. Instead of making use of what we have for those who do not, we only take care of ourselves. When we forget our identity, privileges and calling in life, we seek for lesser things. We begin to seek for substitutes. We just seek to enrich ourselves at the expense of others. Instead of using our power and influence to take care of the greater good of the people, we use them to protect our own personal interests, enlarge our kingdom, increase our wealth and power. This is true especially for those who are in political and even religious service. We are given an office not for our own benefit but so that we can serve our people and serve God. This is where our joy and meaning should come from through service and empowerment of our people. This is true for all those in public service and even those in the corporate world. Our goal is never just for the sake of ourselves but for the greater good of society and humanity. Otherwise, we abuse the talents, the positions and the privileges the Lord has given to us. Indeed, this was the case of the Israelites when they exchanged the God who saved them with “a calf of molten metal” and “worshipped it and offered it sacrifice.”
Consequently, in today’s scripture readings, we are reminded to be faithful to our identity and calling by being appreciative of our privileges. This was the intercessory prayer of Moses when God almost lashed out His wrath on the people. The Lord said to Moses, “Go down now, because your people whom you brought out of Egypt have apostatized. They have been quick to leave the way I marked out for them. I can see how headstrong these people are! Leave me now, my wrath shall blaze out against them and devour them; of you, however, I will make a great nation.”
Firstly, Moses reminded God of His plan for Israel and for all the nations. “Remember Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, your servants to whom by your own self you swore and made this promise: I will make your offspring as many as the stars of heaven, and all this land which I promised I will give to your descendants, and it shall be their heritage for ever.” Secondly, Moses reminded God to be faithful to His identity as a loving, compassionate and forgiving God. “Lord, why should your wrath blaze out against this people of yours whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with arm outstretched and might hand? Why let the Egyptians say, ‘Ah, it was in treachery that he brought them out, to do them to death in the mountains and wipe them off the face of the earth’?”
As a result, we read that “the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.” Of course, we should not interpret this too literally as if God needed to be reminded of His identity, nature and plan. This was but an anthropomorphic reaction of Moses to his fears that the people would be wiped out by the Lord for their offences. So in dismay, he spoke to the Lord of his fears and reminded himself of the goodness of God and why God should forgive the people. Ironically, it was Moses who lashed out his anger on the people because “As soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets from his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf that they had made, burned it with fire, ground it to powder, scattered it on the water, and made the Israelites drink it.” (Ex 32:19f)
In the gospel, we see how Jesus was firm in His identity and in His mission. He was focused and not distracted even by opposition from His enemies. He was not seeking approval from men but from God. He lived for God and therefore He was true to His identity which came from God. What mattered was what God thought of Him and not what man thought of Him. What made Jesus so confident of Himself? How can we also be more confident of ourselves so that we can live authentic lives in accordance with our identity and calling?
Firstly, Jesus had human testimony of His identity. John the Baptist testified to Jesus. Jesus said to the Jews: “You sent messengers to John and he gave his testimony to the truth; not that I depend on human testimony; no, it is for your salvation that I speak of this. John was a lamp alight and shining and for a time you were content to enjoy the light that he gave.” We too need our fellow Catholics, church members, friends and colleagues to affirm us in our identity and our calling. We need people to witness to us that we are walking in the right direction. Of course, this is different from seeking for glory and recognition. Rather, all of us need encouragement from each other, regardless of who we are. We might be superiors, subordinates, children or workers. We need confirmation that what we are doing is from God.
Secondly, Jesus had divine testimony. He said, “But my testimony is greater than John’s: the works my Father has given me to carry out, these same works of mine testify that the Father has sent me. Besides, the Father who sent me bears witness to me himself. You have never heard his voice, you have never seen his shape.” The works of Jesus, His miracles of healing, exorcism, raising the dead to life, power over nature, all demonstrate that Jesus is the Lord of heaven and earth, the Lord of life and death. By His works we come to know that God is acting in and through Him. But the people could not see His works as the work of God because as Jesus told them, “his word finds no home in you because you do not believe in the one he has sent.” Without faith, humility and receptivity, even the good works we do cannot change peoples’ hearts. But for us, so long as we continue to bear fruits of good works for the Lord, we know that the Spirit is with us. (cf Gal 6:8f; Mt 7:20; Jn 13:35; 15:8)
Finally, we find ourselves and are inspired to continue to live an authentic life when we continue to search the scriptures, since the Word of God, as St Paul says, “is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16) Jesus told the Jews, “You study the scriptures, believing that in them you have eternal life; now these same scriptures testify to me and yet you refuse to come to me for life!” If we want to regain our identity in Christ, we must read the scriptures so that we are convinced that Jesus is the Promised Messiah foretold by the prophets. St John wrote, “These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn 20:31) Only faith in Christ can empower us to share in His life and in His love, for God and for others.