Meditation - “Who are You, Jesus?”
Rev. Rebecca Migliore
September 12, 2021
We are back in the gospel of Mark—in fact, today’s lectionary text is considered to be the center of this gospel, both literally and figuratively. And the question that Jesus poses, “Who do people say that I am?” (and more pointedly, “Who do YOU say that I am?”) could be seen as the guiding reason for the sharing of the message of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. It is a question that is still relevant today—to our society, and to us as individuals.
We see this in the news of the day. Some claim Jesus as the arching principle for creating an anti-abortion law in Texas (and other places)—while others claim Jesus as the one who would least want to burden already pushed-down and disadvantaged people with more sorrow and suffering. Jesus is claimed to be the reason some want religious exemptions to the Covid-19 vaccine (saying that they don’t need anything but the blood of Jesus to protect them!). On the other hand, Jesus is cited as the backbone of a law of love intending to protect others as well as ourselves with masks and vaccines. I think you get the point.
Jesus weeps from heaven, as his name is invoked in all sorts of tomfoolery and shenanigans. Jesus has become the ultimate cookie-cutter cookie. You can dress him up, or frost him any way you want to. Some in the world of Jesus saw him as a reincarnation of John the Baptist—one who poked the eye of the oppressive puppet regime so much that he was imprisoned and beheaded. Some in the world of Jesus saw him as Elijah—the one whose return (symbolized by the empty seat set at the Passover table) was meant to herald the restoration of Israel to its former glory. Some in the world of Jesus saw him as a prophet—one who railed at injustice, and gave a glimpse into what God might want in our world.
Peter, often the stand-in for us, the hearers, blurts out the “right” answer, “You are the Messiah” (the one of God). But the minute that it is out in the open Jesus puts his finger to his lips and commands them that they tell no one (that famous messianic secret of Mark’s gospel). And in the next few sentences you see why Jesus might have wanted to tamp down that label. Because people seemed to imagine that Messiah was code for God’s Superhero—able to do much more than leap buildings in a single bound, or shoot spidey goo from your wrists, or lasso the bad guys with your amazon rope, or even have exceptional hearing and ability to smell similar to a feline (like a panther).
You see, Peter, once he has had his flash of insight (maybe God-given?), immediately gets on Jesus’ last nerve by insisting that when Jesus starts talking about what Messiah really is—you know, suffering, rejection, being killed, and then coming back—he has gone off his rocker. Peter actually pulls Jesus aside to “rebuke” him—in other words, to tell him that he is really bumming people out, and that he needs to find a more glass half-full way of talking about the trial and tribulations of those who have walked away from their lives to come and follow him. And gets branded “Satan” for his troubles.
And therein lies the kernel of the question Jesus poses. Who am I? I think we have to get used to the fact that Jesus isn’t necessarily who we say he is. Jesus isn’t necessarily who we want him to be. Let me put that better. God can’t be contained in a box. God, whether we are talking about the Creator of all, the one Jesus called by the intimate name, “Abba”—or the flesh and blood human that we call Jesus of Nazareth—or the Spirit who continues to travel with us and prod us to new insights and new ways of being community—God, is bigger than we can imagine, and deeper than we can fathom, and wider than our brains can handle.
No wonder the psalmist says, “our ways are not your ways.” We just don’t get it much of the time. And so anytime we say “this is what Jesus would do,” we should probably have a squishy feeling in our stomachs that we might have misunderstood one thing or another. We want Jesus to believe what we believe. It’s really quite pesky to be following someone that might push at our assumptions or nudge at our comfort zone or (worse yet) tell us we had FAILED miserably and need to go back to the devilish place we came from! We want Jesus to like us. Better yet, we want Jesus to be like us.
“Who do YOU say I am?” How do we get around this human inclination to see Jesus as cheerleader for the way we are already living our lives (or better yet, critic of how others are living, so we can just jump on the gloating bandwagon)? How do we open our minds and hearts to really seeing Jesus?
First, we need to hear the question. When was the last time you tried to articulate, to put into words, who Jesus is to you. We use his name all the time, especially in the world of the church, but do we really take time to hear his question to each of us, “Who do You say I am?” Only after we admit who we say Jesus is, can we start to pull away our own blinders.
Second, how do we run into the real Jesus? Here are a few suggestions. We might spend some time in prayer (although I am sadly aware that we rarely get definitely answers to our mostly one-sided conversation). We might read our Bible a bit more—for there we encounter the one that interacted with people like you and me. It is a close encounter. But reading a document that was set down years ago, by humans as fallible as we are, can only take us so far. That is why we are encouraged, dare I say mandated, to gather in community (“wherever two or three are gathered, there I am in the midst of them”), and to hear preaching (one person’s take on how Jesus is intersecting with our world), and maybe most importantly to talk to one another about who we think Jesus is.
Because when I hear what Jesus means to you, and you hear who Jesus is to me, we might gain inspiration, we might be jolted out of our own cocoon, we might, together, take a step towards seeing a fuller, clearer picture of Jesus.
I know it’s a cliché now, but that big picture of Jesus made up of all those little pictures of Jesus, might hit on a truth. Jesus comes to each of us—a little differently. Only by seeing Jesus from all those perspectives, might we be able to peek at what it means to be “Messiah.”
Maybe that is the messianic secret. That Messiah isn’t a stock photo. That we can’t think we know Jesus—as a static idea. Jesus isn’t a beautiful but dead butterfly that we can pin to cardboard and stick on our wall. Jesus is that person we just can’t fathom. Jesus is that idea that scares us even as it asks more of us than we want to give. Jesus is that person who loves us more than we can imagine, even while pushing us out of the way of our backward thoughts. Jesus calls us to be better than we are. Jesus invites us to share our lives with others, even those we might not desire to be around.
Who do You say I am?
May we be willing to answer,
May we be ready to hear others’ answers,
May we be guided and prodded and loved into
A deeper knowledge
May it be so, Alleluia, Amen.