In preaching on this lectionary passage, I've almost always concentrated on Peter's claim that Jesus is the Christ. After all, that seems to be the point, the proclamation of Jesus as the One who came to save, the anointed one spoken of in the prophets and the Psalms. But more and more, it's the first question Jesus asks that catches my attention.
"Who do people say I am?"
The responses from the disciples are at least on the right track. Elijah, John the Baptist, and the prophets are at least headed towards the right answer. While not being completely right, they've got the right idea. Jesus is someone who has come from God and is speaking for God. Peter adds the missing piece: Jesus is God.
How would the disciples answer today? How would we answer today? If Jesus asked us, "who do people say I am," what could we begin to say in reply?
So much of the news, print, TV, and social media, seem to portray Jesus as someone most concerned about who you're having sex with and wanting to condemn you for it. The noisiest preachers tell us that Jesus wants us to build walls on borders and drive out anyone who crosses such borders illegally, regardless of the reasons for such dangerous journeys. The loudest voices seem to say that Jesus wants us to carry guns into the pulpit and to be ready to respond to violence with violence. It's common knowledge that Jesus came to help those who help themselves, so any public assistance, any kind of helping hand is clearly outside of what Jesus intended. And then there's the celebrated and dearly held belief that Jesus came to make us wealthy and happy, and that following Jesus translates into money in the pocket and the satisfaction of our every desire.
I don't know about you, and maybe I've already offended more people than I can count, but I don't recognize this Jesus. That's not who I see in the Bible, that's not the Son of God I commited my life to, and it's certainly not the Savior that I've put my trust in. I simply can't reconcile the predominant view of Jesus is with who I believe in.
"Who do you say I am?"
The Jesus I know called attention to people on the margins, people on the outskirts, people it was easier and more convenient to ignore and write off. Unpopular people were right up Jesus' alley, getting an unusual amount of attention from him. Women, lepers, children, foreigners, hated professionals all received caring words and a healing presence. No words of condemnation, no reservations or limitations to the quality of tenderness, no qualifiers or conditions. "Go and sin no more" was the strongest admonition given, after an assurance that accusation was not forthcoming.
The Jesus I know told Peter to put away his sword and instructed us to turn the other cheek. Those words didn't happen in a vacuum, but surely they need to inform our drive towards militarization and readiness to turn almost any encounter into one where violence is certain. Especially when we are entering situations as a privileged people, choosing peace and humility is what I understand Jesus to advocate.
Jesus crossed borders himself, as an infant refugee and as an adult trouble-maker. Whether the borders were national, traditional, or political didn't matter much. If there was ministry to undertake, lives to change, or some need to be in a particular place at a particular time, Jesus got there. The Hebrew prophets' oft-repeated command to care for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger or foreigner in our midst was clear in how Jesus lived his life.
"Who do you say I am?"
Not who the pundits and politicians claim, not who the self-righteous and self-advancing say. I say that Jesus is traveling with the refugees from Syria and grieving over the bodies washed up on many shores. I say that Jesus is with the bullied transgendered person struggling to find a community of care and support. I say that Jesus is standing with protestors asking why another black man is dead. I say that Jesus is with the families in public housing who are barely making it while working multiple jobs and taking evening classes, or who have had to choose between going to work or caring for children because the cost of childcare is more than what the job would pay.
I say that Jesus came to save the world, the whole world, and that salvation is not about a future heaven but about life here on earth. I say that Jesus came to give us life, abundant life, amazing life, life with joy and fulfillment, and that abundant life isn't about deserving it or working hard for it but is about Jesus calling us to a new way of life together. I say that Jesus is more concerned about what we are doing as the body of Christ than what I am doing as a member of that body, because it's together in that body that we work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
"Who do you say I am?"
You are the one who came that we might live, and died that we might be shaken out of our complacency and into a new way of life. You are indeed the Christ, the beloved child of God. Give me courage to not stay silent, to not hide what I believe and know, but to offer how I see you to a world that is hungry for such very good news.