When the novel Sybil came out in 1973, the idea of having 16 different personalities was shocking. Today it’s not only normal, but expected. Online social media split us into our business selves, our party selves, our family selves, our sporting selves, and unfortunately, too often, selves we don’t want to share with a wide audience. Our failure to keep some of these personalities separate can get us into trouble, as evidenced by many people who’ve lost their jobs for something they posted on Facebook—everything from racist comments or angry statements about a customer or boss, all the way to pictures that put them or their employer in an unflattering or embarrassing context.
This isn’t just a problem for the unsophisticated masses. Our two leading presidential candidates can’t even keep up with all the different facets of their character being exposed via the social media. They’ve hired people for that very job, but even they can’t put out a consistently flattering portrait of their bosses. That leads us to a vital question inspired by this Sunday’s Mass readings:
Who am I?
Various gospel passages—including this Sunday’s from Luke (Lk 9:18-24)—have Jesus asking his disciples this very question: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” He also asks them personally: “Who do you say that I am?”
Although the picture we get of Jesus through each of the gospels is fairly consistent, even he couldn’t ensure that these representations of him would be completely identical. Where this question of his identity is concerned, after Peter answers that his master is “the Christ of God,” Luke has Jesus scolding them all to, in a manner of speaking, keep their mouths shut about it. In Matthew’s account, before giving a similar edict, Jesus commends Peter for his insight: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.”
God our Father has no such problem sorting his children out, as this Sunday’s excerpt from Paul’s letter to the Galatians states (Gal 3:26-29):
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
No matter which personality we choose to represent us before our fellow humans at any particular moment, as long as we are true to Christ’s teachings about how to love our Father and those humans, our core identity is clear. It’s a shame humanity failed to recognize the purity of personhood Jesus achieved while he was with us. Our inability to do so was presaged in the Book of Zechariah, as we see in Sunday’s first reading (Zec 12:10-11; 13:1 ):
They shall look on him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only son, and they shall grieve over him as one grieves over a firstborn.
Our own multiple personality syndrome gets us into the deepest trouble when even our Father can’t recognize us anymore. That will be evident as we try using a phony ID to gain entry to his kingdom through the narrow gate up front:
“Many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.’”
You’ve heard those commercials about identity theft protection? When it gets down to protecting who we were created to be, we must avoid becoming our own worst enemies.