Passing As Someone Else
by the Reverend Noel E. Bordador
Two books have recently captured my attention. One is a novel entitled, Passing, written by Nella Larsen. Nella Larsen was a black novelist and short story writer associated with the Harlem Renaissance era of the 1920s and 1930s, an era marked by a blossoming of black art and literary masterpieces. Born in Chicago, Nella was a child of a white woman of Danish descent, and her father was a black West Indian; and because of this, Nella, though considered legally black, Nella could pass for being white. She was able to identify with the experiences of both races, yet not without some personal struggles. And this intense struggle is reflected in the novel, Passing, a story of a black woman, Clare Kendry, who could pass for being white. In fact, in order to escape poverty, she passed for being white, and married a racist wealthy white man who believed that Clare was a white woman. Well, I can’t tell you what happened just in case you want to read it, and I don’t want to ruin it for you. But it is a very gripping story. The other book is more recent, and it also deals with the idea of passing. It is called, “Passing: When People Can’t Be Who they Are” written by Brooke Kroeger. This book, however, contains real life stories of people who try to pass on for someone who they are not: like the story of a half-Jewish man who hides from people that his father is black, or the story of a gay religious man who denies his homosexuality so he could be ordained, and so on.
When we look at the story in the concerning Jesus’ temptation by Satan, we would be correct to say that three temptations were about temptations to use or rather abuse power, the temptation of wealth, and the temptation of idolatry, that is, replacing God with other “gods” in our lives. But I want, however, to propose to you today, that Satan’s temptations Jesus, the Son of God, go beyond these, go deeper than these. What I would like to propose to you all is that Satan tempts Jesus to pass for someone he is not. Satan tempts Jesus to pass for someone he is not. He tempts Jesus to deny his own identity.
There is a very ancient saying by the Greek Church Father, Irenaeus of Lyon, that goes like this: “The Son of God became man so that man might become the son of God.” (Against Heresies, III, 10, 2) What Irenaeus meant was that God has always willed to share his life with us by humbling himself to become like us, a human being in the person of Jesus; in this Jesus, God takes on human flesh, and human life to imbue it, to suffuse it with divine life, redeeming I from sin, evil and death, and to raise it up to eternal life so that we humans could share in the divine life of God. So our God is not a God who is removed from us, but God is One who lives his life with us, sharing in our lot, even in our sufferings, in our hell, in our experience of death; and that God comes in this Jesus to save us ultimately from sin, injustice, evil and eternal death. So in his Jesus, God shows himself as One who stands in solidarity with humanity. In Jesus, God comes to serve us. Saint Paul, in his letter to the Philippians (2:5-11), sings the praises of Jesus who though he was God became a servant of humanity. Jesus the Lord became a servant of humanity. The identity of Jesus as Son of God then cannot be separated from his mission of humble service to humanity, a mission given to him by his Father.
Now then comes Satan. Satan wants him to abandon his mission. Satan wants him to deny not only what his Father wants him to do, but by abandoning his mission, he would deny his own identity, which of course would have meant ultimately the denial of God as One who is, always and will be for us. When Satan asked Jesus to change stones into bread so that the hungry Jesus could eat, Satan was asking Jesus to deny God’s solidarity with the rest of the human race. It is a temptation of God to separate himself, to remove himself from the sufferings of humanity. It is a temptation to turn God aloof, indifferent to the cries of humanity. The temptation to jump from the Temple roof and then save himself from death is really a temptation to abandon his solidarity with humanity unto death. Satan tempts God not to enter into the depth of human condition that includes death and our experience of hell. The temptation to enter into partnership with the devil in order to gain power, wealth and prestige is a temptation to abandon his mission to speak and act against injustice that chains humanity. It is a temptation for God to deny his concern for justice. But Jesus succeeds to overcome the temptations, and in so doing, Jesus reveals the true nature of God as One who is always for us. God cannot be tempted to change his mind about loving us.
The story of Jesus’ temptation has implications for us- in our life as individual Christians, and our life together as the Church of Jesus. If we are to be followers of this Christ, then we have the same mission to be like God in Jesus- that is to live in solidarity with humanity in its hopes for justice and redemption. We are to be a redeeming force in the face of sin and evil; we are to be a healing and reconciling force amidst divisions, prejudice and hatred in this world. We are to be a force of justice that makes no peace with Satan but we must contend against injustice and oppression in all its forms. But, we do know that the Church is often faced by temptations to deny its mission. In our own personal lives, as well as in our life as a Church, sometimes, our concern for wealth and material things, our concern for prestige and power, all these get in the way of living out the life of humble service to which God calls each one of us in imitation of Christ who humbled himself to be our servant. When these things take over and against our mission, then we deny our identity as the Body of Christ called to the service of humanity. We pass for being some thing we are not meant to be.
© 2022 Noel E. Bordador
Noel Bordador is a queer Episcopal priest in the Philippines. He runs Nazareth House, a Catholic Worker House of Hospitality for persons with HIV/AIDS in Manila.
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