Mark 8:27-38 (NRSV)
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?' And they answered him, 'John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.' He asked them, 'But who do you say that I am?' Peter answered him, 'You are the Messiah.' And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, 'Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.'
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, 'If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.'
Saying that modern Christianity is divided on the question of Jesus is a pretty significant understatement. One need not spend a lot of time reading or watching news stories to realize the extent and the level of this division. Nonetheless, this question stated so directly in Mark's Gospel remains relevant and worthy of reflection today. It is no minor question. In fact, it is one that, reflected upon, necessitates other questions, e.g. what kind of priority do we give to the teachings or person of Jesus, and why do we choose to do that? What is the criteria by which we make that judgment?
Countless words have been written about this rather direct inquiry which we face in this week's Gospel. Might I suggest that what could be of value to us would be to take time this week and really personalize this by asking 'Who is Jesus for me?' Much as one might and should value academic study, this is no mere intellectual exercise. It really gets to the issue of what it means to be a disciple in this, our contemporary context. It takes us to the level of asking what the implications are for our daily living in believing what we do.
In this brief space, I don't seek to offer an answer for anyone reading this. What I want to do is ask us all, myself included, to really sit this week with this question and to be honest with ourselves as we answer. Maybe we can share those answers on our blogs, our Facebook pages, or in the tweets we write or perhaps in simple, honest conversation with those whom we hold dear and those in our communities of faith.
I am suggesting this because I believe deeply that this is a question which speaks to all ages, a question as relevant now as it was when this Gospel's author recorded it long, long ago... a simple, direct question which elicits a profoundly personal answer, lived out in the realities of daily life, in how we treat others, in the priorities we set and in how we view the neighbors who constitute our world:
Who is Jesus... to you???
Precious God, as we hear and reflect upon your Word, spoken in Scripture and in the experiences of our lives, we pray to come face to face with who Jesus is for us. And we pray that this encounter will lead us ever more deeply into You and to help us affirm your reality ever more deeply. And, for reasons most meaningful, eye opening and profound, we pray this in Jesus' name. Amen