By Norris Burkes
Feb 4 2018
Have you ever been mistaken for someone you’re not?
It happened to me multiple times during my years as a hospital chaplain. That’s because staff will assume that a necktie-wearing man is either a doctor or a salesman. They usually hope I’m a salesman because salesmen bring chocolate.
Not long ago, I was working as a hospice chaplain when I stopped to visit a patient in a local hospital. Before entering the patient’s room, I paused at the nurses’ station to gather some information about my patient.
A nursing student stood so quickly, I thought maybe I caught her sleeping on the job. “Good morning, doctor.”
“Oh, I’m not a doctor,” I said patting my necktie. “I just wear the tie.”
My remark brought welcoming giggles from the other students.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said.
“I’m not,” I added with a truthful smile.
I said that because I’m not disappointed that I am who I am. I’m not sorry that I don’t hold the title of doctor.
Jesus also experienced a bit of identity confusion, causing him to ask his adoring disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” The boys reported the wild-eyed guesses they’d heard, that Jesus was a ghost of an old prophet or even a lunatic.
Jesus brushed aside the hearsay and asked his students. “Who do you say that I am?”
Peter stood and set it straight. “You da’ man!”
OK, he didn’t exactly say that. Peter said, “You’re the Christ.”
Jesus responded to this astute conclusion in an astonishing way. He told them to not tell a soul.
Why would Jesus ask for such anonymity? Some scholars say that he was trying to avoid being crucified prematurely. I think it was much more.
I think Jesus had arrived at the moment in his life when he knew that he didn’t need to “proclaim” who he was. His walk, his breath, his talk all exuded the confidence of one who was truly different. He knew his purpose, and he knew he was the only one who needed to feel contentment in that purpose.
Over the years, I’ve had glimpses of such contentment. One such moment was during my Ordination Council in 1981.
The council was an inquisitive group of ministerial peers who pitched random theological questions for 90 minutes. Finally, after I’d successfully navigated most of them, the council president concluded with a query.
“What,” he asked, “will you do if this council refuses to ordain you?”
I told the council that even if they mistook me for someone who was not “called,” I would continue to pursue the purpose God had for me. Even if they didn’t affirm my call, I would continue to minister and share God’s unending love with all.
They voted to ordain me, but I still encounter people like the innocent nurse who want me to be someone I’m not. When I meet those folks, I try to follow Jesus’ teaching and not spend too much energy proclaiming who I am. Instead, I try to present myself as a person centered on who God wants me to be.
At the end of the day, assuming our roles in life doesn’t mean we accept the assumptions of others. It means that our efforts are best spent in the role God gives us.
However, just to be on the safe side, I always mentor my younger tie-wearing colleagues by encouraging them to bring chocolates to their favorite nurses at least once a year.
Reach Norris Burkes through email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone 843-608-9715 or on Twitter @chaplain.