Mistaken Identity

Mistaken Identity

Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)  |  Fr Simon Gaine considers how we are tiny brothers and sisters of the Son of God, who have been given a new birth and a new identity. 

‘You are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit.’

That’s what St Paul has to say to us. Too often we think we are in the flesh, slaves to sin. Sometimes people think that’s the Christian message: that we are sinners and nothing is going to change. But that’s to mistake the Christian message and to mistake ourselves, who have been given a new birth in Christ: a case of mistaken identity. Paul knew how easily such mistakes could be made, and he wants to remind us of our true identity.

This identity was ever something deeply mysterious. It’s not obvious from looking at us who we really are, not even to the most learned of people. Such people can say things true of us, but they can’t tell the full story of who we are, because they don’t have the means to discover our true identity. The wise men and women of each science see only from a certain point of view on the world, and every perspective is limited. Every point of view comes from somewhere, and it can only see so far.

Except God’s viewpoint. God can see all things, the Lord of heaven and earth, as Jesus salutes him. He sees us all, knows who we are, and nothing escapes his sight. Only God has the means to tell us who we are. Our identity is a mystery, because only God knows it, and anyone to whom God chooses to reveal it. To the wise this is hidden, because they have no means to uncover so great a mystery. But God uncovers this mystery, when he shows us Jesus Christ.

God reveals himself to us in Christ. But God isn’t all that Jesus reveals – he also reveals us to ourselves, shows us what our humanity is called to be. Jesus thanks God his Father for revealing mysteries – and among them is the identity of Jesus – he is the Son of the Father. And in so doing, he reveals the identity he has in store for us, that we too should become children of God. This revelation is not made to the wise, but to infants, in other words, to us. This reveals who all of us are who accept the words of Christ, that we are tiny brothers and sisters of the Son of God, who have been given a new birth and a new identity.

Jesus also reveals that he gives rest to those who learn from him. The very next thing that happens in the Gospel is a dispute between Jesus and those learned in the law about keeping the sabbath. The sabbath was a day of rest to anticipate our final sharing in the rest of God, who rested on the seventh day after his work of creation. In the story of creation, God rested after his work of creating all things, including us in his own image. If we are the people who have found rest in Christ, this can only be because a great work has been completed, and we need have no cause to labour at it.

This work is a new creation. We have been created anew in the image of Christ, adopted as children of God, babes in Christ. This work has been done through the Spirit of Christ, and we have been made Christ’s. This is why Paul tells us that we are in the Spirit. If we must continue to resist sin, it is not because we are still sinners. Instead it is because we are called to participate in the victory of Christ, because we are already Christ’s. If we continue to labour, it is because the work of making us children of God is already done: we labour not to become God’s children, but to live as the people we already are. That this work is done is no cause for laxity, but for rejoicing.

And when we are forgiven, we are not just reconciled to God and the Church: we are reconciled to ourselves, our true selves. Resist every case of mistaken identity! Do not forget who you are, and who your neighbour is. If we forget, we can do only damage; but if we remember, then God will bring to perfection the good work he has begun in us, and we shall rest in him forever.


Zech 9:9-10  |  Romans 8:9. 11-13  |  Matt 11:25-30

Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP.

fr Simon Francis Gaine, former Regent of Studies of the English Province, holds the Servais Pinckaers Chair in Theological Anthropology and Ethics at the Angelicum University in Rome. He is the author of several books including 'Did the Saviour See the Father?' published by Bloomsbury in 2015.