Who are you? What are you doing here?

William King on January 11, 2010


I heard a story at a conference which seems apropos for the first full week in January:  During the first century a famous rabbi walked the streets of his city pondering a deep theological problem.  He was so lost in thought that he did not realize he had wandered next to the Roman garrison looming over the occupied town.  From the guard tower the sentry called down a challenge to him, "Who are you and what are doing here?"  Startled out of his reverie the holy man stared intently up at the soldier he asked, "How much do they pay you?"

 "One denarius a day," the guard replied.

 "I'll pay you double that just to ask me those questions every morning as I begin the day."

 "Who are you...and what are you doing here?"  Now there are two questions which can keep us occupied for long time.  Who are you—what is your primary identity?  You are many things, of course.  I could fill the rest of this page with adjectives which might describe you, words which define our work, relationships, interests, hopes, and convictions.  But what is most important in how you understand yourself; what is the lynchpin which holds all the other pieces of your being in place?

 What are you doing herein this life,in this particular place, with your unique gifts?  As we begin the New Year, is your life being spent for things that matter, for things that give you joy and enrich those around you?  Life always entails a bit of drudgery—commodes have to be cleaned, reports written, car pools driven, and meetings attended.  But when you realize that your verve is slowly leaking like air through a bad valve on a cheap tire and that most of your energy is invested in spiritual junk bonds, then its time to ask whether you are really living with the zest and purpose God desires for each of us. 

No doubt about it, asking these questions can be painful and scary.  We may not like the answer we give ourselves.  The hardboiled detective in a novel I'm reading describes one antagonist as a "waste of oxygen."  On our lower days maybe that is what we feel about ourselves.  But even when we are not living as fully as we might, God's judgment is still that we are beloved children, claimed in our baptism and always treasured.  And that is precisely why we need to ponder the sentry's questions, so that we can grow into that precious identity with an excited sense of being where our life matters.