In the lead up to this week’s lectionary passage, Jesus poses the most important question he ever asks to his disciples: “Who do you say I am?” It is a question that transcends time. Let me put it another way, what do we mean when we talk about Jesus?
We don’t know Jesus as a person. None of us do. We imagine Jesus as a reality but that’s our subconscious at work. Jesus isn’t an invisible friend we talk to in emergencies. For most people sitting in our pews; Jesus as is more of an idea, the concept of the perfect man for imperfect times. In the same way Washington or Lincoln provide mythological ideals to be aspired to than lives from the distant past. We know so little of Jesus’ life. Yet, we’re certain we know who Jesus is.
Do we know who Jesus is? Jesus isn’t so sure. That’s why he asks.
In this day of trite, snarky 140-280 word answers, it almost seems flippant to say, “He’s my Lord and Savior”. Do we know what that means anymore? No. If anything, it means we’ve reduced salvation to well-worn clichés and rehearsed answers. It means we’ve not stopped to think seriously about who we say Jesus is because we’ve been repeating who everyone else says he is for decades. Jesus knew the “stock” answers. He was well aware of the knee jerk responses. Clearly, he expected the disciples to put more thought into their replies.
We’ve received spoon fed, blended spiritualized with secularized answers for so long; it’s sometimes hard for us to tell what’s from Jesus and what’s not. Maybe we need to rephrase Jesus’ question:
What do United Methodists mean about when we talk about Jesus?
- Is Jesus the United Methodist brother from another mother than John and Charles never knew?
- Do you say Jesus belongs to any political party?
- Is the Jesus you picture in your mind comfortable with those who have mental health issues buying guns?
- When we talk about Jesus, are we talking about a Jesus who is for the direction elections of Caesars, election by the Senate, or hereditary appointment of consuls?
- When we talk about Jesus, are we talking about Jesus who sees poverty as the responsibility of society? Or only the government? Or on the poor? Or no one?
- When we talk about Jesus are we talking about a white guy, black guy, Jewish guy, or Palestinian guy?
- Do you say Jesus is a Christian?
- When you say who Jesus is, does he everything you love and everything you hate? Is Jesus a reflection of your personal tastes?
- Who do I say Jesus is?
- I’m not telling you. Mark 8:30 “And he sternly ordered them to tell no one.”
Richard Lowell Bryant