Did you ever notice that the disciples spend a lot of time not understanding what Jesus is saying to them? We never get to hear the first thirteen verses of Matthew chapter 16, not on Sunday morning anyway, but they deal with a situation in which Jesus becomes frustrated with his disciples because they fail to understand what he is talking about, and in the passage following to today’s Gospel (the passage we will hear next week) the disciples will fail to fully understand Jesus, yet again.
But the question that Jesus asks his disciples at the beginning of today’s Gospel lesson: “Who do people say that the son of man is?” is such a simple question that I imagine the disciples were relieved to hear it. It is something they knew they could answer.
To give Jesus the answers he wanted, all they needed to do was repeat what they had been hearing around them. “Some say you are John the Baptist,” “others Elijah,” “or Jeremiah” “or one of the other prophets." Easy peasy.
But then Jesus asks them another question “who do YOU say that I am?”
This question is not so easy to answer. Jesus wants to know what the disciples actually think and the only one brave enough to step forward and give his opinion is Simon Peter. Peter is not known for thinking before he speaks or acts, in the Gospels he shows himself time and time again to be the one who acts out of the passions he has at the moment, even if he ends up being wrong he does not censor himself. And in this moment Peter’s impulsiveness works in his favor. While the other disciples held back, pondering Jesus’ question, Peter blurts out “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."
Jesus seems rather pleased with Peter’s answer, saying to him “Blessed are you Simon Peter,” but then he says something a bit strange, “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.”
Out of his impulsiveness and passion Peter is given the right answer, not by anything he saw Jesus do, but by God. The faith inside of Peter allowed him to express something that could not otherwise be expressed. And while Peter will almost immediately misunderstand what it means for Jesus to be “the Son of the living God,” his faith will allow him to hold onto that knowledge in the midst of his misunderstanding.
But the question still remains, “who do you say that I am?” is a question that we all should really answer.
Who DO we say that Jesus is? If someone came up to you on the street and asked you “what do you believe, who is Jesus?” What would you say?
You of course have several options, you could give the same answer as Peter, or you could repeat the Nicene Creed. While we do believe that Jesus was the Messiah, would we be able to explain why that’s important? What about the Nicene Creed? We say it every Sunday because we believe it, and it does spell out the very basics of our beliefs, but does it truly express how Jesus fits into our lives?
Who do we say that Jesus is? Not just in this place with our words and our music, but who do we say that Jesus is with our lives?
When we say that Jesus is the Son of God, what does that actually mean for us? When we proclaim Jesus as our savior, what are we actually saying? Being able to answer these questions is not merely important because someone might start quizzing us on the street, it is important because if we can’t articulate who Jesus is, then how are we supposed to know who WE are as his disciples?
If we believe that Jesus is the Word of God, the revelation of God in the world, than what does that mean for us as people who profess to follow him?
Paul struggles with this question in his letter to the Romans. In today’s passage he tells the Christians in Rome “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” We gather here on Sunday mornings to worship together, to be renewed in our faith and to offer back to God all that we have, but our worship of God does not end as we walk out those doors today. Paul encourages his readers to look at their lives in a whole new light. As Christians, everything we say and do becomes our spiritual worship of God. What we believe is not just expressed in words, but our whole lives are our statement of faith. So who do we say Jesus is with our lives? This is a question we each need to ask ourselves every day. Like Peter we may not fully understand what we profess with faith. God, the nature of God in the incarnation, is far too big for us to ever fully understand. If there is no mystery in our beliefs it means our beliefs are too small, too easy.
This can be so frustrating. We live in an age of humanity where mysteries are not really tolerated, and in most cases I think that is right. But faith is about transformation, not understanding. We cannot expect to be able to fit Christ’s call to love and peace into this world.
Paul contrasts being conformed to the world with being transformed by our faith. Choosing the latter means not being able to choose the former, we are not really supposed to fit into this world.
Every day we should be asking ourselves, does my life reflect the love of God shown to me in Jesus Christ? Does my life reflect Christ’s compassion and forgiveness? Does my life reflect Christ’s encouragement to be faithful and courageous? Does my life reflect Christ’s sacrifice? Or do I shy away from God’s calling? Does my life reflect a belief in a god who is engaged with the world, or a god who has conformed to the apathy of our society? Choosing not to be “conformed to this world” but instead to be “transformed by the renewing of our minds” is an every day sort of endeavor.
We should not be discouraged with the difficulties we face, even the disciples struggled and faltered. But it is important to always challenge ourselves in our Christian journey. We are not expected to be perfect. God has patience and knows how scary it can be to live by faith, and perhaps that is why we are the body of Christ in this world together. Separately we are called to be disciples of Jesus, but together we are Christ’s body in the world. We are here to give support and encouragement to each other; we are here to be each other’s strength when our own fails.
Later in the Gospel according to Matthew Jesus says to his disciples “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” It doesn’t take much to make the body of Christ present. When we gather together to support each other in our faith we make Christ visible to all who see us. In the Epistle Paul reminds us that we need each other, that together we are one body.
And together our lives will answer Jesus’ question “who do you say that I am?”