“Who do you say I am?”
This question in Mark 8:29 (and also in Matthew and Luke) is a pivotal moment in the gospels but also a pivotal moment in the journey of every Christian, not just once but over and over again. Jesus asks this question of his disciples having taken them on a kind of retreat to Caesarea Philippi, away from the demanding crowds and workload. Challenged at last to articulate who this man, Jesus, is whom they are following, Peter makes the great leap in discernment and says, “You are the Messiah.”
I vividly remember the first time I was challenged with the question, “Who do you think Jesus is?” It was as if Jesus was asking me directly, “Who do you say I am?” I had been going to church for quite some time and would have called myself a believer, but I had never been directly confronted in such a personal, direct and unembellished way with the question of who it was that I was following. It was a turning point for me as it has been for so many people. I named Jesus as my Saviour, God’s Son. It was a step into deeper faith and commitment.
In the story as we know, Peter recognises Jesus as the Messiah but a few moments later is arguing with Jesus because Peter’s idea of Messiah and Jesus’ are quite different. This is one of the reasons, according to scholars, as to why Mark’s Jesus is always telling people whom he has healed not to tell anyone. Mark’s “messianic secret” as this is called, is a reflection of Jesus’ desire not to be misunderstood. Jesus’ Messiah was to be the saviour of all people by going the way of the cross. The Jews had their own interpretation of what the Messiah would be like: powerful, a wonder worker and healer, and the one who would drive out the Romans and re-establish the glory of the days of King David. Peter argues with Jesus as he begins to teach his disciples the hard lessons to come of the Passion, because Jesus doesn’t fit in with his idea, the commonly held idea, of what the Messiah would be.
“Who do you say I am?”
The reason we have to keep asking ourselves that question as we journey through our Christian lives is that we, like Peter and the other disciples, have images of God that we have to shed and outgrow, over and over again. We also have to imbue deeply, take into ourselves (shades of body / bread and blood / wine here) the profound meaning of the love expressed on the cross. Our journey in faith leads to “metanoia,” the Greek word for a complete change of mind, a make-over, so to speak, of our whole vision of the world. Hopefully, across a lifetime we undergo a paradigm shift from a self-centred and imprisoned view of the world to a God-centred vision, which sets us free and brings fulfilment and peace. This journey cannot be hurried: it has to unfurl in its own time and each stage of our earthly lives gives food for thought and nourishment. But it can be a journey that we refuse to take. Peter, in the end, did not.
If Jesus asks you the question today what will you answer? How does it differ in thought and feeling from times past? What difference does it make now?
“Who do you say I am?