Spirituality for Today – February 2014 – Volume 18, Issue 7

What Do People Say About You?

Rev. Msgr.Frank Wissel

A photo of two girls whispering while a third looks on

Occasionally, I hear someone say, "I do not know what people think about me, and I really don't care."

Whenever I hear that comment, my reaction is twofold. First, I do not believe it. I am not convinced that any person is totally indifferent to the opinions of others.

It sounds to me like an escape clause.

That person decided long ago that others did not like him. Rather than be hurt, he decided that the best solution was not to care.

It is like the classic playground feud. Two boys tell another boy, "We don't like you. You can't play with us."

And the third boy, with a stiff upper lip, but choking back tears, says, "I don't want to play with you anyway." But he really does.

When someone tells me that he or she doesn't care, my first reaction is to doubt that it is true.

My second reaction is to hope it is not. It would really be sad not to care about our relationships to other people. You are important to me. Therefore, what you think about me and how you feel about me counts. I cannot just shrug you off and say your opinion of me is irrelevant. For me to say I don't care about your opinion is for me to say I don't care about you.

There is a gospel reading that makes it clear that Jesus cared how people thought and felt about Him. By this time, His name was something of a household word. Everyone knew about Him. He was frequently discussed. He knew that and felt a natural curiosity about it. That was a very human thing.

If I were to tell you that I attended a party where you were discussed, what would your reaction be? Let me guess. I think you would want to know what was said. So would I, if the conversation had been about me. So did Jesus. He asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?"

To us, that is a strange question. To the people of that day, it made perfectly good sense. They thought all the great people had already lived. So when they saw Jesus or heard about Him they assumed He was from the past.

He was John the Baptizer or one of the ancient prophets, risen from the dead. Then Jesus made the question more specific. He asked his disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" Peter spoke for the group: "The Messiah of God."

The same categories of opinion apply to you and me. Some people know us from afar, and some know us close up. We have made some kind of impression on both groups. Within limited circles, each of us has a reputation. It would be worthwhile to know what that is. What do people say about you?

The first and most obvious answer to that question is "nothing." The vast majority of people do not say anything about you or me. They do not even know we exist. For that we can be grateful. Fame must be a terrible burden to bear. I think it was Andy Warhol who said everyone has their 15 minutes of fame. I have never been quite sure what he meant by that. If he had said, "Everyone is famous somewhere," I could understand that. For example, I am considered famous at St. Mary's Church. (Some might prefer the word infamous.) In any case, most of the people who come to St. Mary's know my name and tastes. I am famous in this place. You are famous in your home and office. Children are famous in their schoolroom. Within these small circles, each of us has some kind of reputation.

This is important. It is not all important. It is not the most important thing in the world. Other things matter more than what people think and say about you and me. We would be foolish to spend our time worrying about our public image. Odds are that it is not accurate. Some people thought Jesus was John the Baptizer risen from the dead. Others thought he was Elijah or one of the other prophets risen from the dead. They were all wrong. Public opinion is not a very reliable gauge of anything — especially not character.

You are not as bad as some people think you are. But neither are you as wonderful as others think you are. Much of this is beyond our control. To a large extent, people are going to say about us whatever they want to say. So we should not fret about it. But neither should we pretend it doesn't matter. It does matter. It matters to us. We care about what people think about us and say about us, regardless of our denial.

I would like to know that people say of me that I am real, that I am genuine. I would hate to know that people say of me that I am a hypocrite. That would hurt. What can I do about this? Not a whole lot. Most of it is beyond my control. But if I want a good reputation, I can at least provide the materials to build one. After that, it is in the hand of others; some of whom, barely know me.

More important than this is what the people who know me best say about me. Jesus cared most of all about that. He heard the reports from the general public. Then He turned to His friends, "But who do you say that I am?" They knew him. What they said meant more than the opinion of the entire population. Peter spoke to the group. He said, "The Messiah of God."

I heard about a young man who was recalling his dad. He was not giving a formal eulogy at a funeral. He was not being interviewed by a reporter. He was just talking to a friend and reminiscing about his father. What he said was this: "My dad was the best man I ever knew." My friend, that kind of endorsement means more than all the other accolades in the world.

What do people say about you? Especially those few people who know you best?