Who are you? Can you define who you are? Defining yourself is not easy to do. And of course, it’s not what we do everyday. We might approach this question about who I am philosophically or psychologically, and they can give us some tentative answers. And they may be somewhat incomplete answers. This reminds me of an ancient Hindu story. There are six blind people identifying an elephant by touching the elephant.
One of them touches only the tail, another one only the leg, and so on. Then, what would be their definition of elephant? The definition the one who touched the tail gives can be dramatically different from that the others give. Yes, like this, it is hard to define who we are, because we only see the limited aspects of ourselves from a limited perspective. And to make the matters worse, we frequently see ourselves from others’ perspectives too. At work, how our colleagues and bosses define us is quite important. At home, we care about how our parents, children, spouse, neighbors look at me. And how often do we wittingly or unwittingly measure ourselves from the popular cultural perspectives based on wealth, beauty, fame, and power?
Indeed, if we define ourselves from those limited perspectives and from others’ perspectives, we would end up misconceiving ourselves. And we would bear inauthentic self-images in us—sometimes, disfigured and negative self-images. Then, is there any way for us to have the true definition of our own selves and live our lives with authentic self-images? To this very question, the Bible already offers the answer. The Bible simply tells us that how “we” comprehend ourselves, how “others” recognize ourselves, and how “the popular culture” measures ourselves are not really decisive in understanding who we truly are. It’s because they would never produce any permanent self-understanding in us. The only perspective that matters when we try to define ourselves is how our “Creator” sees us. The one who made us in one’s own image… if this God tells us who we are, and what we are meant to be, there would be no other definition of ourselves truer than that.
Then, how can we know God’s view on us? Let’s look at today’s Gospel story. In the story, Jesus calls the blind man to re-define himself through faith. Jesus encounters a man blind from birth. And Jesus spits on the ground, makes mud with the saliva, and spreads the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (John 9:6-7). When the man washes his eyes, his eyes are open and he can see! I can imagine the blind man going into that pool of Siloam slowly and carefully. He scoops up water with his hands and washes the mud from his eyes. Now, he carefully blinks his eyes and opens them up, and finally, sees the light for the first time in his lifetime. Standing in the pool of Siloam, he was really overwhelmed with all mixed feelings. Would he shout out and jump with joy? In any way, it must have been a truly transforming and life-changing moment of grace for him.
Through this experience, Jesus opens not only his physical eyes, but also his other eyes. At the end of the story, the blind man recognizes Jesus and professes his faith in him. Jesus opens the blind man’s eyes of faith, and invites him to “re-define” himself as a child of God, as one saved by grace, against all other false definitions on him. The Pharisees define him from the perspective of the law, and they judge him as a sinner. For them, his physical blindness is only as a result of sin. In Jesus’ day people like this blind man were defined as social outcasts. But these views on him don’t matter now. What’s only meaningful to him is the fact that he has a new definition and a new meaning of life in Christ. The light of Christ shines on him and removes darkness from his eyes. And now he not only sees the surroundings clear but also finds who he truly is through his faith in Jesus.
The English word definition comes from the Latin word definire that is composed of de-, which expresses completion, and finire, which means finish or end. So the word, definition, conveys a strong sense of “bringing an end to something.” It’s like saying, “this is it!” “It’s final.” As soon as I realized this implication of the word definition I felt like my eyes were opened. Sure, it is! Defining ourselves from our Creator’s perspective means that we bring an end to seeing ourselves from other limited perspectives such as mine, others, and current culture. Defining ourselves by grace means that we bring an end to who we were before and see ourselves anew as God’s beloved children who God saves even at the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
Today’s Epistle reading tells us, “For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). God defines us as children of light. Our Creator sees us, who are sinners, in this merciful and gracious way. The light… this is what we are meant to be. And God’s beloved children…this is who we truly are. So as the light, let us bring an end to the darkness inside us. If we have any negative definitions imposed on us by others, if we have the disfigured self-images infused in us by the world, let us bring an end to them and find the light of Christ in us. Also as God’s beloved children, let us bring an end to the darkness around us. Let us see our family members, church members, friends, and colleagues as our Creator sees them. Let us take care of them because Jesus loves them too. Bring the light of Christ to them so that they may find God’s good will in their lives.
I surely believe God’s grace is at work within us today, helps us re-define who we truly are, and open our eyes to see ourselves anew. So in any circumstances, let us be more faithful to our Creator who created us with blessings. And let us keep Christ in us who is the light of the world. Who are you? Remember you are created in God’s own image. You are beloved. You are a child of light. And in Christ, you are light. May our light shine brightly today so that we may re-define ourselves and open the blind eyes of people around us. Amen.