The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
You may recall the theme song from the comedy Cheers set in the Boston Pub, a place you want to go “where everybody knows your name.” Among friends, we recognize one another and we are recognized by our name. We are known by our name. It is a unique and intimate part of our identity. Yet behind our name and face lies the question “who am I?” What do I believe? What’s important to me? What worries me? What might I be going through right now?
Jesus asks his friends one very tough and pointed question: Who do they say that he is? Note that he makes a distinction between what others—the crowds, the Pharisees, the curious—say about him and what his closest friends say about him. Side note: the term “Son of Man” is a reference to the humanity of Jesus, as opposed to his divinity. It’s another way of saying “he’s human too, one of us”
There are as many answers to his question as there are individuals who respond. Some say that he is a prophet or a great teacher or a Rabbi or moral leader. He may or may not find it interesting what all these other anonymous folk have to say, but it is clear that what is important to him is what each of his closest friends, his disciples, is thinking. “Who do you say that I am?”
It should be no surprise that impetuous Peter can’t wait to answer the question, like a third grader waving his hand high in the air for his teacher to recognize. This time he got it right. His confession of faith is articulate and complete.
Confronted by this person he has lived with, prayed with, journeyed with, even argued with, Peter blurts out: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!” Interesting responses come from the rest, but it was only Peter who nailed it and has his shining moment—at least that day.
Did they all still struggle with that question Jesus posed? Certainly. Later, Peter would deny he even knew Jesus and Thomas had his doubts even after the rest of them told him they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. It’s still a tough question and will continue to be, as long as it’s asked of people like us. “Who do you say that Jesus is for you?”
Perhaps we have our own interesting answers. Maybe we don’t have any answer today. Maybe we are here to find the answer. Maybe we are here to ask more questions. Just who is Jesus of Nazareth?
Sr. Rachel Hosmer, of the Episcopal Order of the Holy Cross, tells about a dream she had about ordering from a Sears Catalogue. Only this was no ordinary catalogue. In it, she could order the Jesus of her choice.
The dream flowed on: there was Jesus as a seminary professor, with pipe and tweed jacket. There was Jesus the farmer, with calluses on his hands and dirt under his fingernails. There was a suburban, church-going Jesus in a suit and tie. There was a Latino Jesus, and an African-American Jesus. There was a feminist Jesus, who enabled bent women to stand up.
In her dream, Sr. Rachael chose one and ordered that Jesus. She received a Jesus, but it was different from the one she had ordered. She ordered another Jesus, and again she got a Jesus different from the one she had chosen. This happened again and again. Each time she received a Jesus who differed from the one she had ordered. And every time, it really was Jesus she was given.
The message of her dream became clear to her the next day. If she started where she was, with what she really longed for, Jesus would come into her life. And he was always different from her expectations, always wonderfully surprising.
What do we long for in Jesus today? What do we need him to be for us? Peter clearly not only recognized that Jesus was the Son of God but needed him to be his Messiah.
We know from the Gospel we hear every week and from what has been handed down to us through the ages that Jesus had compassion for the poor, healed the sick, preached justice, forgiveness and reconciliation, invited everyone to the table with him, would allow no outcasts, and whose only commandment was that we love one another. Here was a man who wore the face of God, who was God in the flesh.
Like the world in which he taught—a world troubled by conflict and poverty and discrimination—we want our Jesus to be our rock, to be our guide, to be our Messiah. Unlike human leaders who often just take us where they want us to go, Jesus takes us where we don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.
I wonder what answers we’d get if we randomly asked one another, “Who do you say that Jesus is?” Like for each one of us, there is much more beyond the name.
On this very pleasant Sunday morning in Milford, Jesus asks us a tough question” “Who am I for you?” Maybe you have the answer. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you will tomorrow. Maybe not. Perhaps the more important question is: “What difference does it make in our life?”