Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They answered, “John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Messiah of God.” – Luke 9:18-20 (NRSV)
In this era of digital life, where we can craft unique and partial (or wholly fictional) identities through online platforms, “Who do people say that I am?” is almost a rhetorical question. People might say I am healthy if I digitally tell them I am through posted pictures of super-food meals. (They don’t and I’m not.) People may say I am a spiritual leader if I digitally tell them I am, by quoting my own religious writing.
“Who does Google say that I am?” can be a more revealing question, depending on what the interwebs know about you: your past, your present, your finances, your family, your secrets, your critics. Google has the possibility of sharing a more complex representation of identity, compared to the controlled narrative we might carefully hone on specific digital platforms.
Jesus takes a Google poll of the disciples about his public image. The answers vary—John the Baptist, Elijah, an ancient prophet—but in essence, there is consensus on the public’s image of Jesus: he’s a dead religious guy who’s been resurrected. How ironic. Even Herod shares this impression of who Jesus is (Luke 9:7-9).
But the follow-up question—the truly essential question of the day—is the relational one: Who do you say that I am?
People might always be inclined to speculate about one another’s identities. And we might always be inclined to (try to) shape our public image with specific, singular narratives. But who we are, most truly, shows up in the ways we relate to each other.
Let people talk and invent their own stories of me, but God I pray: let me not care, so long as I am true to the Holy within me and the Holy within my neighbor.