For words that are in fact so familiar to us, words like “Messiah” and “followers” and “cross,” they are hard to wrap our heads around, hard to implant in our lives, hard to make real.
This gospel contains some of Jesus’ hardest teaching, but even in our knee-jerk despair that we’ll ever be able to live up to this lofty calling and high destiny of which he speaks, we sense how important it is.
We can feel how grand the story is that Jesus is telling. We understand that he is inviting us to be part of events that change the world.
And the spark of the Holy Spirit within us leaps with excitement and possibility and hunger for living out the justice and love of the Christ-follower and the cross-bearer and the life-giver.
But a much louder part of our minds reminds us that we are also the person who routinely leaves the gas cap undone and is jealous of that one person at work and snaps at the kids when we’re tired.
How can there be room for someone like that in the group that recognizes Jesus as the Messiah and bravely follows him to the cross even at the cost of their own lives?
I noticed something about what was happening to Jesus in this moment.
Jesus’ words are strong and his manner is powerful. We are left in no doubt as to who he is, what he is determined to accomplish, the price he is prepared to pay for it, and the expectations he has of us as his followers.
But I think that his very intensity can reveal to us something very tender and real about Jesus in his humanity in this moment, something that might actually give us the courage to live and give as boldly and fully as we are being called.
But before we get to that moment, we begin in an interesting place. We begin with questions, questions that Jesus asks.
“Who do people say that I am?” he asks.
And then the follow up: “But who do you say that I am?”
The gospel story does not begin by saying, “Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he told his disciples, ‘I am the Messiah.’”
It says, “Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’”
Jesus wants to know what we think. Continue reading