As the world wrestles with natural disasters, COVID, elections and the clash of social movements, an uncertain anxiety reigns in even the calmest of hearts. But then comes an invitaiton, a question, and a revelation about identity. Identity, after all, is not confined to ethnicity, race, gender or sexuality. It is also about who we are as persons, emissaries, servants, and human beings. That is made clear in the Gospel of Matthew: Jesus claims his identity as the Christ, but he also invites the disciples to become co-collaborators in His mission. In that, a new identity is formed. It is a call to mission, to become something more in the midst of complicated times. That invitation laid out for Peter comes right after he names Jesus as the Son of the living God. The statement was profound, life-changing.
In many ways, Jesus lays the same question before each of us. “Who do you say I am?” Taking the time to consider that, to wonder for a moment at such dialogue, is a validation of the idea that each person, each life, is precious. Each matters to God. Each issued multiple opportunities for that interaction, that exchange, with God. Taking the time to listen to that questions amid the cacophony of crises in the world and in personal lives makes a dramatic difference. It reframes the priorities, the concerns and even the choices that matter. “Who do you say that I am?” means that a multitude of responses can be made; some will be insightful, some awkward and others entirely inaccurate. And some will resonate with a keen honesty and truthfulness, a sense of deep recognition.
There is another application of the question: to dare to ask this of others, to ask what is seen in us. The feedback, the responses, are a revelatory mirror. It is not always about who we think we are but how we come across to others, how they see and experience who we are. That offers the chance to become who we want to be. Jesus dared to ask the disciples; the answer mattered. The courage to ask is what made the difference: Jesus showed that, and Jesus invites each of us to that very same courage.
Identity is not determined by self alone: it is a composite of factors, of experiences and moments. It is about reconciling what others see in us, what we know of self, and who we imagine ourselves to be. There is a simplicity in the truth of that, in the possibilities that represents. Being named is being known; being known is beginning to be. Both Jesus and Peter begin a whole new phase with this exchange. Asking the question leads to new pathways.
In these most challenging of times, asking the question will require courage as well. But it may also prove to be the chance to find a new path into the future.