In one particularly poignant scene, the character known as Coach Harrison is challenged by another man to answer the fundamental question of who he really is. He replies that he is basketball coach. The man presses him further. He then responds that he is a history teacher in a Christian School. Pressed still further, he states that he is a husband and father.
Finally, having been reminded that all these things could be taken from him and he would still be someone, he grasps what the man is driving at and states that he is a follower of Jesus Christ. The point is that he eventually realizes that there are many ways in which he can define his identity. But there is only one thing that can never be taken from him; and that is his identity in Jesus Christ.
I share this on Labor Day weekend as a reminder that our own ultimate identity as Christians is to be found in Jesus Christ. The things by which we so often define ourselves – things such as our job, our profession, our career – these can easily be taken from us. Therefore, our identity should not be attached to what we do by way of profession (as in butcher, baker, or candle-stick maker), but rather to Whom we attach ourselves.
In chapter 1, verses 7-9 of the Old Testament Book of Jonah, we read:
7Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. 8So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”
9He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”
The context here, of course, is that Jonah is being a rebellious prophet and running from his assignment to deliver God’s message to the people of Ninevah. He has caught a ship headed for Tarshish; and God has sent a storm to interrupt his flight.
In their fear, the sailors confront Jonah and ask who he is and what kind of work he does for a living. The words translated as “what kind of work” are from the Hebrew term ““mel-aw-kaw'”, meaning “work or occupation”. Interestingly enough, this word itself comes from the root term: “mal-awk'”, which means “a messenger, or a representative”.
And thus, when Jonah, obviously realizing that he has been found out, decides to come clean, he states that he is a Hebrew who worships the Lord, the god of Heaven”. In so doing, he owns up to the fact that his own true identity is not found in his profession, but rather in his relationship to God.
As you and I take time out from our busy occupations this Labor Day, let us do so fully cognizant of the fact that no matter how much we love our jobs, or how successful we are in them, our true identity is not to be found in our employment. It is to be found in our relationship to God which we have through Jesus Christ.