August 27, Ordinary 21A (Matthew 16:13-20)
Not everyone knows who Jesus is. Do his disciples?
Names are significant. They mean something; they are identifying markers. If you don’t know someone’s name, you won’t ever be able to call on them or to them. People have a first name and a last name. Some people change their birth names for various reasons; this wouldn’t happen if names weren’t significant and didn’t matter. But they do matter. Names say something about who we are.
The politics of naming is important. What you are called and who gets to name you—these things set your place in the world and sometimes set you apart. Throughout history, we have seen names for racial and ethnic groups change. Those we call “African American” today were once called “Negro” and “colored” and “black.” But who made these changes? Who had the power to do so? And do individuals have the power to name themselves in this way?
Tiger Woods describes himself as “Cablinasian” to represent his mixed heritage. Some people don’t like this because it seems like Woods is distancing himself from blackness. But he took it upon himself to name himself as he saw fit. He grabbed hold of the power to self-identify, even if others had other names for him.