The Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
Updated: Aug 28, 2020
Three clergy—a Lutheran, a Catholic, and an Episcopalian ended up at the same time at the Gates of heaven. It turns out that Jesus was administering the entrance exam that day. “The question is simple,” he said, “Who do you say that I am.”
The Lutheran stepped forward and began, “The Bible says…” but Jesus interrupted and said, “I know what the Bible says; who do you say that I am?” The Lutheran just stood there—mouth agape and fell through a trap door.
The Catholic, quite certain that he knew the answer, blurted out, “The Pope says…” but Jesus again interrupted and said, “I don’t care what the Pope says; who do you say that I am?” “If the Pope’s pronouncement isn’t the answer you want, I’m not sure what to say,” the Catholic said. He, too, promptly fell through the trap door.
Jesus turned to the Episcopal priest and asked, “Who do you say that I am?” The Episcopalian replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Then, just as Jesus smiled and gestured for the Pearly Gates to be opened, the Episcopalian added, “but on the other hand…”
We Episcopalians are not known for great dogmatic declarations or for producing theological tomes. In fact, we are a denomination that has always allowed for individual perspectives on matters of faith that may not always be in conformity with orthodoxy. We make room for thoughtful questioning…and we love those questions—not so much to find answers but to inspire us ask even more questions.
In the Gospel we heard today, Jesus makes a distinction between what others—the crowds, the Pharisees, the curious—say about him and what his closest friends say about him. It is clear that what is important to him is what his real friends think. “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus wants a personal and individual response—not the Bible’s, not the Pope’s.
That day Peter got it right for a change. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”
Did he still struggle with that pointed question? Certainly. Peter was yet to 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. Belief is a tough thing. Maybe you don’t even have an answer today. Maybe you are here to ask questions like “Does God really care about me? How can I live with hope in a world that is full of uncertainty, full of pain, full of COVID-19, full of bad news?
Just as in the case of others who were asked the question—and to whom the question is still posed today—it would be naive of us to assume that everyone is on the same page in terms of being able to make Peter’s confession of the divinity of Jesus with such great conviction. Belief is a tricky, sometimes fleeting, sometimes difficult, maybe even sometimes impossible thing. Yet there is one thing we know for certain: everyone believes in something.
Some people believe in self- determination, some believe in God as a puppeteer. Some people believe in their horoscope, some believe in the stock market. Some people believe in a God of anger and judgment, others believe in a God of love and mercy. Some people believe in the Bible, some believe in the Koran. But underneath all of them is one constant: Whatever we believe at the deepest core of our being determines who we are, what we will become, and how we live our lives. No one goes through life without belief in something.
As for Jesus, well we know who he is. Peter spelled it out for us. 2000 years of study, research, learning and listening to God’s word has informed us that Jesus was a person that had compassion on the poor, healed the sick, preached justice, forgiveness and reconciliation, invited everyone to sit at the table with him, and would allow no outcasts. Here was a man who not only bore the face of God; he was God in the flesh.
What if we were to take Jesus’ question and turn it around? What if we were to ask Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?” What would his answer be to that? He might point to our gifts, to the unique person we are, to the very features of our make-up we may have felt constrained to conceal or deny. Of this, I am certain. Jesus would tell us that we are God’s beloved one. We are precious in God’s sight. We are loved just as we are and without condition.
As Christians, we are asked to believe a number of things that are challenging: the Virgin birth, the Resurrection of Jesus, the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, the doctrine of the Trinity. We may struggle with these doctrines—or not—but I’m wondering if the harder thing for many of us to really believe is God’s enormous, even outrageous love for us; that God is not happiest when we are miserable, rather that wants us to be whole, to be healthy, and happy.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear from his lips just who he sees in us? So, ask him. You have nothing to fear. “Who do you say that I am?” We can pretty much predict the answer.