Jesus took his students with him to Caesarea Philippi. As they were traveling, he asked them, “Who are people saying I am?”
They said, “Some say you’re John the dunker. Others say you’re Elijah. Others say you’re another truth-teller.”
He asked them, “What do you have to say about me?”
Peter said, “You are the anointed one.”
And so Jesus told them not to tell anyone about him.
It’s natural to want to know what people are saying about you. But, when you ask them, you might not like the answers they give you. Chances are, they won’t match what you think of yourself and, deep down, hope they see in you, too. And what “they” will say will likely reveal more about who they are than who you are.
In this short exchange, there are four answers to the question. Each of them reflects an understanding filtered through the different needs folks have for Jesus to fill. Some want a firebrand preacher. Others want a return to the good old days. Others want someone who will be the new charismatic guru. Peter (and the other students) have staked their fortunes on someone they think is the new King David, on his way to restoring the glorious theocracy of a thousand years before.
Each of these answers says more about those who give them than they say about Jesus. None of them, apparently, is what Jesus wanted to be said about him, because he tells them, “Just don’t tell anyone about me.” Jesus is the only one who really knows who he is. And that self knowledge was given to him one day back at the Jordan River. Any answer other than that one is a misrepresentation. And Jesus, like any of us, would rather not be misrepresented.
The problem for us when people tell us who they say that we are, is that we tend to believe them. And we end up trying to be who they tell us we are instead of being who we know we are. Or we give up pursuing what, deep down, we know is our calling. What we often fail to recognize is that when we give up our self-determination (because “it’s easier to just get along” with what others think we ought to be or think or do), we misrepresent ourselves.
Who do you say that you are?