Last week, while working a per diem shift in my reprisal as a hospital chaplain, I was mistaken for someone I am not. It happened as I entered an unfamiliar nursing station and offered the busy staff a morning greeting.
In response, a young nurse stood with a deferential offer, “Please take my chair, doctor.”
“Oh, I'm not a doctor,” I said patting my Tweetie Bird necktie, “I just wear the tie.”
My remark brought welcoming giggles from her nursing colleagues.
“Oh, I'm sorry,” she said. “I'm not,” I said in a pronounced emphasis and then rolled the chair back to her.
My second remark brought a glare from a nearby doctor.
Nevertheless, it was true. I wasn't disappointed that I am who I am. I wasn't sorry that I didn't hold the position for which the nurse found high regard.
Jesus had the same problem, which caused him to flat out ask his adoring crowds, “Who do people say that I am?” The throng fired back some wild-eyed guesses, as some even said he was the ghost of an old prophet.
Others said he was a lunatic, but Jesus brushed aside those speculations, turned to those who were important in his life, his students, and asked, “Who do you say that I am?”
Peter stood and set it straight. “You da' man!” OK, he didn't exactly say that. Peter said, “You're the Christ.”
Jesus responded to this astute conclusion with an astounding command. He told them to not tell a soul.
Why would Jesus ask for anonymity? Some scholars say that he was trying to avoid being crucified prematurely. I think it was much more.
I think Jesus had arrived at the moment where he knew that he didn't need to “proclaim” who he was. His walk, his breath, his talk exuded the confidence of one who was different. He knew his purpose, and he knew he was the only one who needed to feel contentment in that purpose.
We all need to know such contentment. I had such a moment during my ordination council in 1981.
The council was an inquisitive group of ministerial peers who pitched me random theological questions for 90 minutes. Finally, after I'd successfully navigated most of them, the council president concluded with a scripted query designed to elicit a scripted answer.
“What,” he asked, “will you do if this council refuses to ordain you?”
I told the council that even if they mistook me for someone who was not “called,” I would continue to pursue the purpose God had for me. Even if they didn't affirm my call, I would continue to minister and share the unending love of God with all.
The truth of it is, council or no council, there will always be people who will refuse to affirm you. Or there will be people like the young nurse who want you to be someone you are not. But as I learned from this council, maybe we spend too much energy trying to proclaim who we are and not enough effort just being who God wants us to be.
Nevertheless, as much as I struggle with this issue, I continue to be mistaken for someone I am not. Last month, my sister-in-law mistook me for a fashion clumsy geek when she laughed at the way I tie my shoes off to the side. Just goes to show it's going to take perseverance to become who God wants me to be.
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist. Visit thechaplain.net.