Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah." And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
“Tell me…how can you justify God's wrath in light of Hurricane Florence?”
The email message sat there on the screen in my mailbox, the cursor blinking and waiting for someone to begin to type a response and filling the time and space with a mix of curiosity and expectation and hope and bewilderment.
“Why, God?” was my whisper when the phone rang on Saturday morning and the doctor told my spouse to go to the ER immediately because her blood levels were dangerously off, and he was worried about her heart and more…
Why God? Why Me? Why this? Why now?
We all have had moments in our life when we wonder about God and where our questions become our prayer – silently held within, spoken out loud, cried out, and sometimes even laughed out…
In our Gospel reading today, it is not the disciples or us; however, but Jesus himself who is asking the questions.
“Who do people say that I am?”
In other words - what are people saying about me, what is the talk on the street, the whisper behind my back, the gossip at the well? What questions have people asked? What have What have you heard?
I wonder if the disciples stopped dead in their track, scratched their heads, puzzled why Jesus asked them that, before hesitantly giving their answers – as if testing if it was the right one? Or did they respond almost as soon as the question has been said, cutting each other off and talking over one another, sure that they had the right answer? I know…I know….I know what they say about you….
“John the Baptist, and others Elijah, and still others, one of the prophets”, the disciples respond to Jesus. Each of these answers are big – John the Baptist was dead – killed by Herod – and believing Jesus was John meant believing that John had overcome death, in contrast, Elijah had never been seen dead and so connecting him to Jesus meant to believe that Jesus was Elijah coming to lift up Israel and to take down their Roman oppressors. Lastly, comparing Jesus to one of the prophets means to see Jesus as a teacher that can change the people so that God may once again pour God’s favor out upon them. Either way – it seems obvious that the people believed that Jesus had come to do great things – to be their superhero.
It is interesting that Jesus does not offer any comment as to what they have said. He neither denies nor acknowledges….John the Baptist, Elijah, a prophet… As the disciples offer him their answer he stands quietly and listens, Almost as if to say: Yeah sure…ok, maybe kind of like one of these or all of them”….before moving on by asking “Who do you say that I am?”
No more empty platitudes or handed down beliefs but Jesus wants to know from the disciples, in their own words. He may as well have said, “Ok, I have heard the second-hand stuff – enough of it already - now it is time for you to give me YOUR answer. I know how THEY perceive me but what do you see in me? What Jesus is saying is that he has called them and walked with them and taught them and preached to them and eaten with them – and they have stood up and followed him, listened to him, prayed with him, and walked with him day after day through many villages – and after all of this time together and once the window dressing is removed – what do they see? “Who do you follow?”, he seems to say. “ What do you see in me? How does my presence shape you and your life? What are your expectations of me and your hopes in me? Who am I to you? What do I mean to you? “
It is a question that can only be answered by a personal and intimate engagement with Jesus rather than stale second hand clichés, a question asked as the disciples are already walking with Jesus and asked as we are already on walking with Jesus. Who do you think I am? Who do we think Jesus is. Sharing our lives with others challenges us, shapes us, and changes us. How is it to share our life with Jesus?
Like the disciples we could probably throw out one name after another for Jesus: King of Kings and Lord of Lord, Light of the World, Prince of Peace, Son of God, Cornerstone, Rock, Redeemer, Bread of Life, Emmanuel, God With Us, Good Shepherd, Lamb of God, The Way Truth and Life..and many more. But what do these words say about what Jesus is to us and how we have experienced Jesus? Apart from the scriptures that use them.
Like Peter, we are often prone to quick answers.
Peter is sure of his answer and sure of what he knows and so he boldly proclaims, “You are the Messiah”. The Christ. The promised on. The chosen one. The superhero we have been waiting for. And we all want to nod with Peter..yes, this is it – Peter got it right.
This time Jesus does not remain silent – instead, he shushes all the disciples and, without denying Peter’s confession, he immediately launches into a portrayal of the great suffering, rejection, and death that he will have to face by the hands of the Jewish leadership. But instead of listening, Peter, so sure of himself and his idea of who Jesus is, rebukes Jesus.
When Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him, he is in fact telling Jesus just what his job description is and how it has to play out and that Jesus has it all wrong. Rather than telling Jesus who he thinks Jesus is, he tells Jesus who he wants Jesus to be or maybe even who he needs Jesus to be. He doesn’t hesitate, doesn’t even think. He imposes his own expectations on Jesus. And often we do the same.
When we call Jesus our Redeemer or Rock or teacher or Prince of Peace or any other name, We do so with a certain image in mind of just what that means and we may close the door to engage the question of who Jesus is. Like Peter we are at times prone to calm our own fears or feed our wants by fashioning Christ into our image. But Jesus does not want to be put into a box that does not fit him. Peter called him Messiah and with that title came certain expectations and Jesus know that he may be a messiah but not that kind of messiah – When we call him our shepherd then sure – yes, he is our shepherd – but that shepherd may not exactly look or behave like the one we image - Jesus wants us to know that - and so he has to set the record straight.
Jesus’ response to Peter is shocking, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Get behind me. Get behind me and see who I really am.
Jesus rebuke is not a way of shaming Peter but instead is it an invitation to truly live the question of who Jesus is. And the answer to that has to include the Jesus who cried at the death of his friend, the rebel rouser Jesus who ate with sinners, touched outcasts, healed the hurting and fed the hungry. And it especially has to include the suffering servant – the one who put his life on the line for all others. To get behind Jesus means to fully embrace him and journey with him and to let him grow in us.
Who do you think I am – is the beginning of a journey, not the end. And with that question, Jesus invites Peter and us not to find all the answers, because there is no one perfect and concrete answer. but a life of life-long learning and a lifelong exploration of his question as well as our own question, and a lifelong transformation.
Why. What? Why me? What now?
Seeing Jesus as the Messiah is the first step to the answer– then we must let Jesus teach us what kind of Messiah he is. Rather than rebuke and resist, like Peter, let us hold what we know and what we continue to learn about Jesus’s life, suffering, death, and resurrection – let us always hold the mystery of it all close to our hearts, and allow it to work on us, shape us, and change us. The mystery is the lens through which to look at life with all its hurricanes and illnesses, its grief and mourning, and its joys and celebrations.
There are no answers in this sermon, just the question: “Who do you think I am?”
Live this question. This is Jesus invitation to us: Live the question
“Who do you think I am?”
Who do you think Jesus is?