Then Jesus said to the disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” – Luke 9:20 (ESV)
If you watched the 2018 Marvel movie, Black Panther, you may recognize the Xhosa question, “Ungubani?” meaning “Who are you?”
During introductions in fictional Wakanda and real-life South Africa, people often ask each other who they are. Here in the U.S., people might respond to the question with their names, identities, professions, and whatnot. There, people respond with a litany of family names and relationships that situate them as one person connected to many. The response never stops at the individual.
When Jesus asks his closest friends the reverse question, “Who do you say that I am?” he’s already heard how the crowds misidentify him as John the Baptist or even Elijah. Much like ungubani wouldn’t be asked of people you already know well, Jesus’ question lands curiously in this context. He hasn’t had a bout of amnesia needing assistance remembering who he is. Nor is Peter a newcomer in this circle needing to be quizzed on who’s who among the closest friends of Jesus. So why ask the question?
Perhaps Jesus’ inquiry has less to do with his curiosity about who others think he is and more about helping us properly identify ourselves. Who Jesus is aids us in uncovering critical truths about who we are beyond our individual selves. Who Jesus is supports us in recognizing our inextricable interconnectivity, one created being to innumerable others. Who Jesus is (re)orients us in everything we do and all of who we are.
And so, I ask you, dear one: Ungubani?
When we’re tempted to stray from our truest identities, remind us of who we are so that we might never forget Whose we are. Amen.
The Rev. Phiwa Langeni is the Ambassador for Innovation & Engagement of the United Church of Christ. They are also the Founder of Salus Center, the only LGBTQ resource and community center in Lansing, MI.