September 12, 2021 / 16th Sunday after Pentecost / Richard Holmer
First Reading Isaiah 50:4-9a / Second Reading James 3:1-12 / Gospel Mark 8:27-38
Who Is Jesus to You?
Many of us have questions we would like to ask Jesus: Why must innocent children suffer? When are you coming again? How do you decide when and how you will answer our prayers? Why do some people believe and others don’t? Do you still work miracles? What is heaven like? What’s the purpose of mosquitoes? You could come up with questions of your own.
Jesus has questions for us as well. In today’s gospel Jesus asks his disciples two questions. The first one is pretty easy. Jesus asks: “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus wants to know the word on the street, what people are saying about him when he is not around. This is a straightforward, non-threatening question for the disciples. They simply report what they have heard other people say about Jesus.
Then Jesus raises the ante significantly by asking a much more personal question: “But who do you say that I am?” I picture a long silence before Peter finally speaks up, saying, “You are the Messiah.” To tell Jesus who you believe him to be is momentous. It puts you on record. It’s not just a bit of information or an opinion – it’s a faith statement. And so the answer you give says as much about you as it does about Jesus. Unlike Peter and the other disciples, you and I have the benefit of 2,000 years of hindsight to help us form an answer. Nevertheless, the question still stands. What would you say if Jesus asked you: Who do you say that I am? There are many possible answers, good and worthy answers. Yet which answer expresses who Jesus is for you?
If you say that Jesus is your Savior, then you need to come to terms with your own need for saving. From what does Jesus save you? What does it mean to admit that you are a sinner in thought, word, and deed? Likewise it is accepting our helplessness in the face of death. To have a Savior requires you to be humble and repentant.
If you say that Jesus is Lord, then by all means you must listen and obey. A Lord is not someone you can ignore. The authority of your Lord is to be honored and respected. To have a Lord one must learn to be obedient.
If you say that Jesus is a Teacher, you must realize that you are ignorant and must be willing to learn. When was the last time you participated in any kind of study (one of my regrets)? If Jesus is the Word of God, you need to listen and learn from him.
If you say that Jesus is the WAY, then it means you cannot have things your own way. Jesus says that following him involves denying yourself (not what we are inclined to do). “I Did It My Way” can’t be your theme song.
If you say that Jesus is the Truth, you must own up to all that is less than true in yourself. You need to conduct a rigorous self-inventory to identify all that is false in you, all the half-truths and white lies we tell ourselves. You need to address the things about you that are too true to be good.
If you say that Jesus is your friend (like it says in that beloved hymn), you need to consider what kind of friend you are to Jesus. Friendship is a two-way proposition. It’s clear how Jesus has befriended you, all that he has done. What are you doing to be a friend to Jesus – and to all the other friends of Jesus?
If you say that Jesus is the Light of the World, you need to reckon with the ways you still linger in darkness – hiding your secret self from view. Jesus can’t be light for you if there are things about you that you would prefer to keep in the shadows. You need to walk in the light.
If you say that Jesus is the True Vine, then you need to be serious about what you are doing to stay connected to the vine, how you are abiding in Christ. How do you stay in touch with Jesus? And, what kind of fruit are you producing?
If you say Jesus is the Bread of Life, then why do you settle for so much junk food, empty of any spiritual content? The Bread of Life is offered every time we gather for worship. Why would you skip any meals?
If you say Jesus is your Good Shepherd, you need to acknowledge your limitations as a sheep. Sheep get lost. Sheep don’t know what’s best for them. Sheep are vulnerable. When Jesus is your shepherd, you need to follow as close as you can.
If you say Jesus is the Resurrection, then there is no room for fear of death – or anything else, for that matter. If you are confident that Jesus will raise you to eternal life, you can afford to be bold, to take risks for the sake of the gospel.
If you say that Jesus is Life, then you have to ask what is keeping you from full and abundant life. What causes you to hang back? What must you be doing to enter into a vibrant life in Christ?
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It’s not hard to see why eleven out of the twelve did not speak up when Jesus asked: “Who do you say that I am?” To answer the question is to reveal a lot about yourself – and also to commit yourself. It’s safer to keep quiet and let others do the talking. Of course to give no reply to the question Jesus poses also reveals a lot about who we are: Perhaps too proud to admit our real needs. Too busy or distracted to focus on what matters most. Too anxious about not giving the right answer.
Jesus is waiting and hoping for an answer. The truth is, no one else can answer the question for you.
And even if you never speak the words, the way you live, day by day, will speak volumes about who Jesus is for you.
Jesus actually knows what’s in your heart. Do you?