It’s not a formula. It’s identity. 

The gospel reading for Sunday was from Matthew 4, the temptation of Jesus. I’ve read it, taught about it, been taught about it. But as I was preparing for chapel on Sunday, one phrase stood out. In two of the times the tempter talks to Jesus, the sentence starts with “If you are the Son of God.” 

It’s about identity. And it’s about who gets to decide identity. 

The tempter was assuming that Jesus didn’t know his identity, or was uncertain of it, or needed to prove it. After countless conversations with other humans, it was an easy assumption to make. Each of us wonders about our identity or is uncertain of it or wants to prove it. 

It’s why the countless appeals of advertising work. It’s a common strategy of bullies. It was a phrase I ran into at church one afternoon. A guy who was preying on people in our parking lot started a statement to me with, “If you were a real Christian.” I knew in that moment as I responded to him that he didn’t get to set the parameters of “real Christian” based on what would serve his purposes. 

Jesus’ response was to quote words written in Deuteronomy. And we think, I think, that if we quote verses at the tempter, it will work magic. 

In those moments, though, the Son of God is being the Son of God by saying God’s words. It’s not a formula. It’s identity. 

I’m not sure about the lesson. I’m not sure I’m being clear.

But I think in this story is something about deciding who gets to tell us who we are and what actions flow out of that identity. For example, I’m guessing that if the child of God doesn’t include God among the people who describe what being a child of God is, our identity isn’t going to be clear. 

What do you think?

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