Week of Proper 14, Year One[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]
Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:
Psalms 102 (morning) // 107:1-32 (evening)
2 Samuel 15:19-37
Our second reading today begins with a curious case of mistaken identity. The tribune (a Roman officer in command of one thousand men) overseeing Paul’s imprisonment has confused Paul with some notorious revolutionary. Paul asks the tribune a question in Greek, and the tribune is taken aback: “Do you know Greek? Then you are not the Egyptian who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?” I imagine Paul pausing in surprise to say, “Um . . . I think you must have me confused with someone else!” (Then again, many Roman leaders might not have seen much difference between a Christian missionary and a rebel warlord. Both seemed threatening.)
The matter of Paul’s identity is not all that easy to clear up. He may not be the infamous rebel leader, but who is he? To the Roman officer he claims two sources of identity, his Jewish ethnicity and his Roman citizenship: “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of an important city.” But when he gives a speech in Hebrew to the Jews who had cried out for his arrest, he emphasizes his ethnic and religious heritage: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated strictly according to our ancestral law, being zealous for God, just as all of you are today.”
It’s as if Paul wants to say to everyone, “I’m one of you.” Are you a Roman officer? Well, I’m a Roman citizen, and I speak your language. Are you a pious Jewish person? Well, I am too, and I speak your language as well. Many of us know what it’s like to navigate complex identities. We may, like Paul, be a special mix of citizenship or immigration status, cultural background, and religious upbringing, along with many other factors.
But the most important statement of identity in today’s second reading comes in the story that Paul tells about his own conversion. Paul tells his audience that he was in the midst of hunting down Christians he could arrest and punish, when a blinding light and a booming voice stopped him in his tracks. When Paul asked, “Who are you, Lord?” the voice replied, “I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.”
When Jesus wants to connect with us and reveal himself to us, he doesn’t focus on what he shares with us. He emphasizes instead that he is the one we are predisposed to punish or exclude. So, however we manipulate our identities in terms of citizenship, culture, language, or religion, may we remember how Christ identifies himself to us.
Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.