Who do you say that I am? In so many ways, Jesus already anticipated our deepest question of faith. Disciples have been scratching at their heads and souls to answer the question regardless of how someone taught us the answer, or what latest book we claim completes the revelation. Could it be that the gospel has much more to say on the subject than either N.T. Wright, Marcus Borg, or the United Church has to write? Just a thought.
At our recent meeting of the General Council, this United Church of ours decided that all of our statements of faith are now to be considered official doctrine of the church. This means we hold statements from 1940 all the way to our recent Song of Faith to have the same standing as the doctrine section of our Basis of Union in 1925. If you’re scratching your head at this moment, remember: we are not alone – God is with us. There were more pressing issues, but we seem anxious to tie ourselves in knots about faith statements these days.
People have many strong feelings in support and against this motion. Looking back on it this afternoon, I think it says more about our difficulty in sharing our faith than building doctrinal bridges in our very diverse church.
It’s easier to talk about saving the world – outreach, mission projects, street ministry, family counseling, non-profit accessible daycare, pastoral care, social justice, justice for creation…easy. But talk about Jesus? We’d rather say everything we can or say nothing at all – at least that way no one is left out or offended. It might be a little odd not to talk about Jesus though – so perhaps if we include everything, than we don’t have to commit to anything, not together anyway.
It’s hard for each of us to answer Jesus’ question on our own, let alone think about what we could all agree on. Does the gospel truth come in one uniform size, or is it as diverse as the creation we live in?
I remember working with a youth group and watching the youth minister field this question…
The Group: “So, Who do you think Jesus is?”
The Youth Minister: “You know…he was a…Rabbi?”
The Group: “What’s A Rabbi?”
Youth Minister: “A Teacher.”
The Group: “So Jesus is a teacher?”
Youth Minister: “I think so.”
Everyone, including the Youth Minister, had their heart anything but strangely warmed and instead were underwhelmed. Jesus is a phenomenal teacher – one whose lessons we still find difficult to master. It’s like threading a camel through the eye of a needle some days! But is this really who Jesus is? Or is this one of his many aspects that we see reflected in the gospels? Is Jesus just a spiritual or religious teacher? If that’s the case, I can meet him any day at the “spirituality” aisle in Chapters, where I’ll find as many different versions of Jesus as the human mind can imagine (and as publishers are willing to pay for).
But who do you say that I am?
With the first of three predictions about his death, Jesus catches Peter off guard. What’s all this talk about suffering and death? Isn’t that what we’re trying to escape in our lives? Peter freaks out at Jesus, literally grabbing him and pulling him aside, because Jesus doesn’t fit his crafted idea of who the Messiah will be. Has the student become the teacher? Not yet anyway.
Whoever the Messiah is, Jesus deliberately chose to claim the title “Son of Man” and to define it himself, rather than let anyone hang their Messianic hopes on his shoulders. Peter might want a liberator to free Israel from the Roman Empire and walk at the Messiah’s right hand victorious – that’s fine – it just won’t be Jesus. Jesus won’t put on a balaclava. He’ll take up the cross.
Ironically, his challenge to Peter contrasts divine and human ways so that Jesus defines Jesus. We don’t. Mark reports that he rebukes Peter by using the same word for casting out evil spirits. This is strong stuff. If Peter and the rest of the disciples want to really know who Jesus is, they’ll walk as he walks – taking up the cross, the