In this week’s passage, Jesus is continuing to travel around the countryside teaching and healing. While they are travelling, Jesus asks the disciples, “who do you say that I am?”
There are lots of answers to this question. The disciples have several answers ready for Jesus:
John the Baptist (recently beheaded), Elijah (the prophet who had the fiery showdown with the priests of Baal), the Messiah.
Who do you say that I am? An important question for all of us and one that should shape our lives—our thoughts and our actions. I’ve had many opportunities to reflect on who Jesus is for me. At different points in my life I haves struggled to make sense of who he was and is. I have wondered what the point of his life was. There are certain names and images of Jesus that make me very uncomfortable. There are other names and images with strengthen and encourage me in my faith. You can see many of these names and images on in this picture:
Each of these images tells us something about Jesus: His character and life, his connection to God, his role in the world and in our lives.
I want to walk you through some of my own creed about who Jesus is for me and why these particular images and descriptions are important in my own faith. I’d also like you to reflect on the images and names of Jesus you hold dear and how these images shape and influence your own faith.
In Jesus, the Creator was and is made known. Jesus is a reflection of God. His life gives us a glimpse into who God is. In Jesus we are reminded that God was present at the beginning of creation and called creation into being. That creation and presence was not something that happened once at the beginning of time. It was not something that only occurred in Jesus. The Creator continues to be at work and continues to be revealed in human life.
He was fully human and fully known by God as all of us are. Jesus was fully human. His humanity is important to me. I believe Jesus was conceived in the same way you or I were conceived. Human life is always a miracle and we are all children of God. Jesus was deeply grounded in his faith as a Jew. He knew the scriptures and took the practice of his faith seriously. In doing so he opened himself to God’s spirit and allowed God to work through him. God lived in Jesus because he was so deeply rooted in his faith and committed to following God’s way. Our own rootedness in faith creates space for God to be at work through us.He cared about each person individually and knew that all must be free for one to be free. Jesus took time to build relationships with individual people. He spoke to individuals. He healed. He taught. Jesus was also clear that we are all connected. Whenever Jesus healed individuals, they were reconnected to their community which in turn changed the dynamic within the community. Jesus was able to and continues to change individual lives and restore people to wholeness and connectedness.
As Political Lord, he challenged structural violence and empowered people for transformation. There was also a very political component to Jesus’ ministry. He challenged the structures within his religion—as well as the Roman Empire—which harmed people’s ability to live fully. We need the connection between the personal and political. Our faith does not allow us to choose between Jesus as personal savior and Jesus as political Lord. We need to understand the power of Jesus message for us as individuals. We need to understand that if Jesus is Lord then when there is conflict between the values of a political system and our faith, Jesus is the authority we choose to follow.
Jesus is known as prophet, guide, protestor, activist, healer, teacher, witness. These are important images for me. As a prophet, Jesus could see how the culture had lost sight of God’s message and his role was to remind people who they are called to be and help get them back on God’s path. Jesus is the guide to God’s path. He is the one who leads and directs our lives and points us on the path towards God. Jesus was a protestor and activist. He challenged all the thing things that were wrong with the world and tried to change them for the better. Jesus was a healer and a teacher. Jesus was a witness to God’s love and presence in the world.
Jesus died because there is sin in the world which separates us from each other and from God. Jesus challenges that separateness. There is sin in the brokenness of our lives and relationships. Sin simply means that we have missed the mark. We’ve made mistakes. We all miss the mark and make mistakes in our lives. But sin is also collective. It is all the little choices we make on a daily basis that add up to structures that prevent fullness of life or harm individuals. In those places where there is hurt and suffering, we find Jesus bringing healing. We find Jesus mending relationships. We find Jesus caring for people. We find Jesus welcoming people into community. I am reminded that we are the body of Christ and that when one person suffers we all suffer.
There is witness to his life, his death and his resurrection. It is because of this witness that he is known to us today. In scripture we find a witness to Jesus’ life and death. The women who stood at the foot of the cross and wept and watched while he died confirm that death. But they also affirm that something miraculous occurred on Easter morning. It is because they watched him die and yet found the tomb empty that there is a religion called Christianity. They saw something they couldn’t explain in any rational way and yet knew to be true.
Jesus calls us to continue the witness that points to a God of justice, love and compassion. I see something of God in the person of Jesus. Through the stories of Jesus’ life, I see a God who cares for the most vulnerable, who loves the most unlovable and who touches everyone around him with compassion. When I see people living with grace and compassion and love I am reoriented back to the God of love. I continue to see the witness of God’s love through Jesus around me.
Who is Jesus? I’ve shared some of who Jesus is for me. These images shape and influence the way in which I see the world and, hopefully, the way I live and yet my understanding and experience is incomplete and limited.
Why does it matter whether Jesus is the Lamb of God or the Prince of Peace or the Great Healer? It matters because Jesus is a reflection of God and shapes whether we see God as concerned with this life or the next life only. It matters because these images shape whether we believe is a magical God who will come and save us from ourselves at some future point or God who is around us at every moment and transforming lives in the present.
Jesus asks each of us: “Who do you say that I am?”