No App Necessary

If you’ve ever been to a carnival, you’re familiar with the hokey games on the midway. Most of them are rigged to extract a few dollars from you, of course, and that stuffed bear you might win is actually worth less than the money you just plunked down on the counter. And then there’s the booth where a grizzled carny attempts to guess your weight and your age just by looking at you.

Usually they win. Sometimes, however, the guesser will intentionally underestimate the age and weight of an older person (particularly a woman), seeing it as a win-win situation – she is flattered and he keeps the five bucks!

But what if this game were played with one crucial adjustment?

What if the guessing game were to be played without the person or subject being seen?

How would you guess the age?

How would you guess the gender?

What about marital status or income?

Truth is, it’s even easier to guess these things sight unseen than it is for that greasy dude at the fair to guess your age by looking at you.

All that’s needed is the subject’s smartphone.

Look at the apps on the smartphone, and you can deduce the age, gender, income level and marital status of the owner.

Researchers recently cross-referenced the app usage and demographics of 3,700 people to determine which apps and personal attributes correlated and found that they could predict a person’s gender, age, marital status and income with between 61 and 82 percent accuracy.

To put it another way, you are what you download!

If you have the Pinterest app on your phone, for example, you’re almost certainly a woman.

You’re probably over the age of 52 if you listen to iHeart Radio, and younger than that if you choose SoundCloud instead.

If you’re an avid user of Uber, you’re likely single.

Your choice of app for restaurant reviews says a lot about your income. You’re probably earning more than $52,000 a year if you’re checking out Yelp and less than that if you’re searching Foursquare.

Not only do your app choices say a lot about you, they also make it possible for the Internet to know you even better than your family and friends. There’s a reason those ads that pop up on your phone or computer are so creepily accurate. Your data usage reveals the real “you” in many ways.

It would have been a lot harder for people in the ancient world to guess your age and weight given the many layers of baggy clothing and a short life expectancy and, of course, the complete lack of cellphone coverage and Wi-Fi hotspots. That didn’t stop people from trying, however, especially people who didn’t quite fit the usual mold.

The crowds had been observing Jesus for some time by now, but no consensus had developed. In a world where a person’s demographics involved a 3g analysis (gender, genealogy and geography), Jesus was an outlier. Consider the data sets about him to this point:

+ He is born in unusual circumstances and of questionable parentage (1:18-25).

+ He is from a poor family, but his birth threatens a king and attracts foreign diplomats (2:1-23).

+ Rather than stay at home and take on the family business, as expected of a Jewish male, he becomes a wandering teacher who leads a ragtag group of disciples.

+ Rather than take on a wife, which was also expected, he remains single and unattached.

+ He has no visible means of income, and yet spends a lot of time at parties and provides food for thousands (14:13-21).

+ He performs incredible miracles, but never uses his power to benefit himself.

+ He casts out evil spirits but, at the same time, is blamed for being in league with them (12:22-32).

+ He is a student of the Law of Moses, but teaches that it doesn’t go far enough (5:1–7:29).

+ He appears to be a righteous person, but he hangs out with the dregs of society. He even eats and drinks with them.

+ He talks about eternal life, but seems to be obsessed with death and, in particular, his own death on a cross.

It’s little wonder that people were confused. The guessing game took place every time he appeared in public and, in fact, even among his closest associates.

This brings us to today’s Gospel, where Jesus turns to the question of his real identity. Jesus and the disciples arrive in “the district of Caesarea Philippi” – a fact which is significant for the dialogue that follows. Pagans living in the region believed that a cave near the city was the residence of the Greek god Pan, the half-man, half-goat god of fright (from which comes the word “panic”). It was also thought to be the entrance to Hades – the underworld, or the realm of the dead.

The city was also significant because it was built by Herod Philip in honor of Caesar and given the additional designation “Philippi” to distinguish it from Caesarea Maritima, built by Herod the Great on the Mediterranean coast.

It seems appropriate that in a place identified with two significant rulers, and also a place identified with the personification of evil and death, Jesus would bring up the question of his own identity as a counterpoint. So one day he says to his disciples, “Guess who?”

His actual question was, “Who do people say that I am?” (v. 13). What’s the buzz about me right now? Then Jesus asks his disciples the pointed question, “But who do you say that I am?” It’s a question that will not only define who he is but also define the identity of his followers.

Simon Peter answers with confidence, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (vv. 15-16). Simon has examined the evidence and concluded that Jesus is the real deal.

But while Simon gets Jesus’ title right, he still doesn’t quite understand what it means. Like most Jews of his day, Simon had certain Messianic expectations. The problem with expectations is that they often narrow our vision, allowing us to see only that which is compatible with the vision. When Simon confesses Jesus’ identity as Messiah and Son of God, he is actually not thinking of him as the second person of the Trinity but rather thinking something more like, in our own vernacular, “I think you might be our future president.”

It’s clear from the next section, when Jesus predicts his death and resurrection, that Simon’s bold confession, while technically correct, still doesn’t fit the full messianic algorithm Jesus has in mind (vv. 21-28). It will take the cross and resurrection of Jesus to give Simon the full picture.

Still, Simon was technically right. He nails it, and Jesus tells him so.

“Simon, that is awesome! You totally get it!”

The Gospel says that his actual words were, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven” (v. 17).

In a place where Caesar is hailed as a god and the realm of death stands wide open, Simon acknowledges the one person who is really worthy of worship. Peter’s own identity is changed because he acknowledged the true identity of Jesus. Wherever he goes from now on, he will be identified by his association with the Christ.

This brings up an important question for those of us who would follow Jesus as well. Would we be easily identified primarily by our association with Jesus? Age, weight, gender, education or income are not relevant factors. Jesus only wants us to identify him as our true Lord and then to work on his behalf, imitating him in all that we do. This identification means that we are willing to not only share in his blessings, but also in his cross (v. 24).

The apps on your phone might say a lot about you, but that’s really a private matter between you and the Internet advertisers who are collecting your data.

Following Jesus, on the other hand, might be personal, but it’s never private. Even when Peter would later deny even knowing Jesus, he couldn’t get away with it. Once you are associated with him, it’s an identity that sticks. Anyone we meet should be able to tell right away from our words, actions, compassion and way of living that we belong to him. They shouldn’t have to guess!

Jesus would sternly warn his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah at this stage of his ministry (v. 20). Well, now the secret is out and we have no such restrictions.

The question is whether people will be able to discover Jesus, and see God, through the way we live our lives. They shouldn’t need an app for that.