I was intrigued by someone talking on TV recently, about their identity and the multiple personas they found. I thought I’d do the same and googled my name. I’m sure many of you have done the same. I was intrigued. There is a random list of other women called Lucy Morris. Apparently, I am a medium, a coach, a lawyer, a literary agent, a priest and there are many more. My identities are wide ranging and it is odd to see so many different people with my name, as I asked the question: ‘Who am 1?’ of the computer’s search engine.
Jesus asks his disciples the same question:
Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ (Matt.16:13)
And it sounds like Jesus got the same sort of unfocused and random responses: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. Like my search engine, clearly the disciples were hedging their bets and keeping the answer as broad as possible to enable them to pick the right one when the time came.
If Jesus asked you the same question, what would you answer? In a world full of multiple choices and ways of keeping the question open, how would you respond?
Simon Peter has no doubts and jumps straight in as he always does, after Jesus redirects the question, this time to the disciples: ‘who do you say that I am?’
You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. (Matt.16:16)
In this story, Matthew is leading his readers towards the Transfiguration, described in the Gospel a few verses later where Jesus’ identity is again critical. Here we are resolving the question.
According to the Hebrew scriptures, Elijah never died but went into heaven in a chariot. The death of Moses is reported but his burial place is unknown. John the Baptist represents the resurrection when included in these verses, following on from Herod Antipas’s identification of Jesus in Matt.14:2:
…and he [Herod] said to his servants, ‘This is John the Baptist; he has been raised from the dead.’
Our response to Jesus’ question when we are asked, as it was with the disciples, is either to remain open to the possibilities, listening to what the others might say; or, to be very clear about your understanding of who Jesus is in your life at this point.
Simon’s declaration is clear and bold. Jesus responds immediately to Simon’s recognition of his identity and renames him Peter, with the well-known statement about the church being built on Peter as the rock as its foundations:
You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matt.16:19)
These statements from the Gospel helped to build our church as we know it today.
In this statement about the gift of power and authority we have enabled and accepted the repeated abuses and misuses of power in the church, which continue to show Jesus’ message has yet to be heard, listened to and accepted. And we too need to listen to them repeatedly as our capacity not to hear and understand is our normal way of living as we try to conform the church to the world.
So my question for each of us is very real. What sort of testimony are we offering to those around us, to show our belief Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God? How are we speaking, behaving and acting in our lives as our living, daily testimony to God? What will others know about God through us?
If we say: ‘Jesus is Lord’, what do you mean? Our declarations are important, but they do not complete or finish once and for all, the renewed commitment we make each day of our lives.
Our temptation is to preach and believe the faithful will not suffer, but instead will prosper, will triumph over every adversity, will win rather than lose. We find it hard to accept suffering when we believe in God.
Jesus has won the victory, death’s sting has been swallowed up, our salvation has been created and established and cannot again be lost. Our sins are forgiven and we believe in the resurrection. Jesus’ work is once for all; and yet, we continue to make the same mistakes as Peter and the rest of the disciples.
We must not say ‘God forbid’ that the righteous suffer, and saints are killed. Faithful discipleship cannot avoid the walk to Jerusalem and confrontation with the earthly powers and rulers. We cannot become the earthly powers and rulers.
Jesus shows us the way we need to go if we choose to follow him, and he does not let us off the hook. He is the Messiah, beloved of God, making us members of his own body, adopted children of the Most High, not simply bystanders in the fulfilment of the promise of his messianic life.
We must accept such confrontations and protests, such opening of doors and hearts, and new possibilities, which may also open us up to suffering, arrest and even our death. Such it seems is the Way of the One we follow.
Our minds can accept this, our behaviour and words do not always match our thinking. We cannot avoid the inevitable sharing of suffering and threat of death
We cannot avoid the need to deal with the very human practical matters of mercy, compassion and liberation.
Those who truly know Jesus are also the ones who know, bear witness, standing in solidarity, wearing the burden of suffering and death to make it real. It is not standing in the corridors of power assuming the rights of the oppressor, but with those suffering and dying.
Who do we say Jesus is? On our answer will depend the honesty of our faith.
Of the innumerable miracles Jesus performed, perhaps none was greater than the miracle of inviting twelve poor imprudent persons into community and empowering them to live into a new identity. Peter’s passion and love for Jesus was overwhelming, even though he often got it wrong. He gives us hope that we can all keep trying.
Today in this age of unprecedented wealth, corruption, greed and poverty, our faith requires us to do the same as Peter, stepping into a new identity, and trusting Jesus to show us the way he wishes us to follow.
Jesus is listening to your answer.
The Lord be with you.