When In Doubt Look At Your Name Tag

By Joel A. Hess

I still remember visiting Mary. She was in the memory ward at Samaritas Assisted Living. I always hated going in there. I can’t imagine how her husband felt. Once the heavy doors opened, I would be met by aged men and women crying, staring, and laughing at nothing. It smelled like medicine and excrement. I forcibly smiled at everyone as I looked for Mary’s room, which she shared with a woman who was never there.

I found her. She rarely recognized her husband or kids, so of course she was not even interested in who I was. She was lying there with her head resting on her arm, which hung over the bed. The saddest thing about dementia is watching your loved one leave you even though they are right there. On her name tag was written the name Mary. She didn’t even know what that meant. “Mary,” I said. “Let me read you Psalm 46.” Then we sang “Jesus loves me” and prayed. I talked about the resurrection and said goodbye.

“If you really are the Son of God…” Satan confronted Jesus. “Who are you? What is truth?” Pilate asked. We think we live in some new age of deconstruction, postmodern, whatever you want to call it. The gospels beat Kafka to describing the insanity of modern living.

Jesus had been fasting for 40 days in the wasteland. The world must have felt like it was spinning as he strained to see ahead, only to make out a strangely familiar figure approaching him in the horizon. 

Who are you? Are you really God? Maybe Joseph is your father after all. Maybe you are just delusional like your brothers tease, or maybe this is all a dream. Satan hoped to confuse Jesus, to cause him to have an existential crisis. Perhaps the fall from heaven, the bloody birth into a stench-filled manger, the circumcision, the accidental cut of a sharp blade when he was 10, the arguments over money between his parents, the constant parade of dead bodies, the hollow-eyed glance of the prostitute, the million sins and the million deaths in this dying sickly world suffocated him enough that he forgot it all. O God, why have you forsaken me? Perhaps He forgot where He came from or where He was going! 

Maybe the devil hoped he could cause some early onset dementia on a divine scale. Why not? Satan is insane.

Do you know this test? Who are you? If you are a son or daughter of God…. Why suffer? Why are struggling with sin? Doesn’t God want you to be happy? What’s He hiding? Why are you in this dementia ward? Why would He let your friend in 7th grade kill himself with that 12 gauge? Why aren’t you more successful? Follow your instincts, trust yourself, take it, bite it.

Then after we fall, Satan continues, “Why would God love someone like you?” You don’t look like a born-again Christian. You don’t look like a new creation. You don’t look like God loves you. 

We too have been given a name tag like my friend Mary. It’s all we got, really. A name tag written by God in Holy Baptism. It tells us who we are. It’s all we got when the world feels like it’s spinning and we question our sanity, or even lose it. Even the meaning of this name comes and goes from our mind. Sometimes we even forget under Satan’s questioning. But God does not! He is a better forgetter than we will ever be, forgetting all our sins. He is a better rememberer than we ever need to be. He remembers us. Jesus remembers me. Sometimes God sends you to your sister in Christ only to read her name tag to her.

Jesus passed the test without hesitation. He continued His journey among sinners, with sinners, to the cross. He is the Son of God, Son of Man, second Adam, progenitor of a new race. As John said, “He loved them to the end.”

He passed the test in our place. He made right what we have made wrong. He even fixed death and made the grave an entrance instead of a dead end. He corrected our genes and makes us new by His Word and water. He gives us a new name. No matter what the world and the devil say, no matter what we see or do, this name is ours! It’s all we have. It’s all that matters!

So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: “I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!” – Martin Luther