It doesn't take much anymore to imagine yourself as the victim of identity theft. Our lives have been reduced to series of numbers: social security, birth date, checking account, bank routing, credit score, cell phone, etc. It doesn't seem far-fetched to believe that someone in possession of those numbers could totally rearrange your life. Scariest of all, with identity theft, it's all about the numbers, and nothing about the name.
Names don't seem to matter much to people anymore. Can't say that's surprising. What do most people loathe doing at events where they may not know everyone? Putting on a name tag. I still can't decide whether it's because they don't want to be "known" or just don't want to stick out like a sore thumb, but either way, it's just one more way we are stripped of our identity.
The thing that strikes me this week (I started this post in November of last year, and have been mulling it over ever since) is that I think every time we see people as nameless faces and don't pursue the intentional act of "knowing" each other, we grieve the heart of the One who knows us all by name.
Because there are no nameless faces to God.
This past Sunday's message was about Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), the chief tax collector who has a life-changing encounter with Jesus. One of the things I value most in this text is that Jesus calls this man by name. It's likely that Zacchaeus's reputation in Jericho (and surrounding communities) is poor enough that people don't speak to him, let alone call his name. In fact, we probably don't want to know what they do call him behind his back (let alone to his face)! We do know they call him one thing: sinner. As Jesus engages Zacchaeus and expresses the necessity to "abide" with him at his house, the crowd goes crazy. Didn't Jesus see the Hester Prynne styled "scarlet S" sewn to the opulent tunic Zaccaheus wore? He'd been labeled. Renamed. Stripped of his identity. Zacchaeus was now just that "sinner" guy.
I'm so grateful we don't have to walk around wearing signs that name all we've done wrong. Not only would they be big and heavy, but who we are today would be masked by who we once were. Sadly, many of us are still carrying these weights. We may be unable to let go of our own shame for the wrong we've done or that has been done to us. Maybe it is because we've worn labels so long that we've lost our own sense of identity and started to believe the lies the enemy speaks to us. We've reduced ourselves to sequences of numbers and letters that represent our sins, and forsaken being known for who we are and have the potential to become.
But... the story doesn't have to go that way. The script can be different. Because we are known to God by our names and our value to Him, not our past and its pitfalls, we can live with the freedom that comes from being identified... as loved. When Zacchaeus is called by name and invited to spend time with Jesus at his own house, who knows how long it's been since Zacchaeus heard his name spoken. It doesn't matter. Jesus knows, and He knows the man and what he's done and Jesus loves Zacchaeus in spite of himself. Jesus speaks and restores Zacchaeus's identity and while helping to shape who he can become.
This isn't the only place in Scripture where we see this happen. There's the woman with the issue of blood (Mark 5:25-34) who is alone and penniless and broken. She wears the label of "unclean." Jesus not only brings healing by His power, and salvation because of her faith, but restores her dignity and value when He calls her "Daughter." This is her rightful name. Stolen identity recovered!
John's gospel records these important words from Jesus: "[The shepherd] calls His own sheep by name" (10:3). The Good Shepherd knows your name, and He calls you by that name -- ransomed, precious, valuable, son, daughter, redeemed. In Christ, there is NO identity crisis. Whatever theft has occurred at the hands of the enemy is reclaimed by the power of the One who knows and loves you.
Consider who you know that is living a nameless, stolen existence. Are they lonely, broken, labeled? Perhaps they, like Zacchaeus, need Jesus to call their names. Let Him use your voice to do so.
Jesus follower. Wife. Mom. Daughter. Friend. Pastor. Learner.