Thursday, March 29, 2012

Before Abraham Came to Be, I AM

Today's reading from John's Gospel provides an instance of Jesus disclosing to those around him who he is. He shares with them, that is, his identity. For identifying himself with the Father whose mission he was enacting on the human stage, the response is predictable: those gathered 'picked up stones to throw at him' but Jesus manages to escape.

When I was in high school, we read a book entitled Why am I afraid to tell you who I am? One thing I remember - from over fifteen years ago - is how easy it is to wear a mask that conceals our true selves. "The Nerd" or "The Jock" or the "The Cold Customer" or whatever, we don masks to prevent people from getting a glimpse at who we really are. We are, many of us, gripped with the fear that if people knew us, really knew us, that they'd not like us at all. Hence we wear masks to show to others the person we think they will accept, the person we think they'll want to see.

Teaching high school boys, I see masks all day long. Some days, it's as though I'm the emcee of a masquerade ball: the masks are simultaneously fantastic and grotesque. Beneath the masks, though, one glimpses the very real human eyes peering out, darting to and fro worriedly, petrified that someone might catch a glimpse of the face concealed. Sometimes these masks slip off, exposing the once-hidden face to new light...those moments of grace, in my experience, are profound moments of healing.

When we tell people who we are, when we take a stand on the woman or man we've become, we do risk failure and rejection. Jesus knew who he was and, as C. S. Lewis once expressed it, we have only to conclude that in his identification of himself with the Father he is either a "Liar, a Lunatic, or the Son of God."

So why did people take up stones against him for being honest? I guess for the same reason people react violently against radically honest people even today. Such people "make an issue" of something that is or should be private - be it religion, politics, sexuality, etc.. We, sinful humans, have something of an allergy to authenticity and honesty. When someone around us risks sharing who he or she is, removing the mask and staking herself on an issue, that act of honest sheds light onto the shadows of our dishonesty, on the fact that we are rotting underneath our masks.

This Lent, perhaps it is time for each of us to pick at the edges of the mask(s) we wear to see how firmly it is in place. May this be a season of grace, of a fasting that loosens the edges and allows the false front to which we cling and think ourselves beholden to fall away. Let us take courage in Jesus' own honesty - an honesty not without grave risk - and find the grace to show our true faces to the world, to rejoice in who we are, and to stand in testimony to God's saving power which calls each of us from self-enclosed darkness into the light of God's Kingdom.

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