“Who do you say that I am?”—That’s the big question, isn’t it. “Who do we say Jesus is?”
There’s another question that follows on the heels of that big one. “How do you say it?” “What are the words both spoken and unspoken that say who Jesus is—for you, for me, for us, for the church, for the world in which we live?”
Questions posed to each of us. Questions posed to all of us who gather at this table.
Questions we can well ask folks who claim to be Christians; questions we ask the Church.
The Gospel of Mark begins with such a question. Indeed, that question—“Who do you say that I am?”—may well stand behind and before and beneath the whole Gospel. Remember, Mark starts his story with the words, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God” and closes the long chapter of Jesus’ earthly life with the centurion facing Jesus dying on the Cross and saying, “Truly this man was God’s son.”
Peter struggled with that question and, I suspect, the others did as well. Sometimes hitting the mark, getting the answer dead on; sometimes far afield. When Jesus first poses the question to his disciples, Peter living the part of star pupil answers, “You are the Messiah.” In the next breath he gets it wrong. Remember, Peter rebukes Jesus when Jesus starts detailing the costs of Messiahship. Yet in the end, after Peter has met the Risen One, he lives and later dies his answer to the question “Who do you say that I am?” And he does it well.
“Who do you say that I am?” A question posed again and again throughout history and throughout our lives. Sometimes we get it right; often we’re as far afield as Peter was that day in the villages of Cesarea Philippi.
In one of the darkest eras of our history, a time when women were oppressed, blacks enslaved, native Americans conquered, and Mexico under attack by us, the poet James Russell Lowell wrote these words,
Once to every man and nation
Comes the hour to decide
In the strife of truth with false-hood,
For the good or evil side;
Though we might quibble with Lowell’s one-time-only moment claim, most of us have lived in that hour of decision, many of us more than once. We, as a people and we as the human race are living in such an hour today. Our planet heats up. Ice caps shrink. Glaciers disappear. Streams turn rancid. The words of the Eucharistic prayer begin to haunt us as we look at our fragile earth, our island home. One day tells its tale to the next. We begin to wonder, what is the tale our planet is telling today? Can we change the tune it is singing. Are we too late?
War spans much of the globe. Refugees pour out of Africa and the Middle East. Refugees cast adrift on an unwelcoming sea. A mother holds her infant’s head above the water. A father carries the lifeless body of his young son ashore. We feel helpless before this wash of human misery.
“Who do you say that I am?” the one who comes to us as a stranger asks.
“How do you say my name?” the one who speaks to us from his deep fear wonders.
Do we answer with Pope Francis, “You are the refugees on the shores of Europe,” as we open our churches to people fleeing Syria and Iraq and the forces of ISIS.
Do we follow our Bishop’s lead and open our pockets to the agencies helping those refugees?
Maybe we heed the words of the Bishop of New York and partner with the Episcopal Migration Ministries in offering sponsorship to a refugee or a family of refugees.
Perhaps the times demand that we answer Jesus’ question on the global level.
Jesus says to his disciples—to us—to you and me and this part of the Body of Christ we call Live at Five—“Take up your cross daily and follow me.” Answering that question, “Who do you say that I am?” is not a one-time-only kind of thing nor is it a question asked and answered only on big playing fields. It’s a way of life—for all of us. Collectively and individually. A question we answer in the little ways of our daily lives. A question we answer when we let go of an old hurt; a question we answer when we seek and find threads that connect; a question we answer when we speak to the face of God in the person facing us and from the face of God in us.
“Who do you say that I am?”
You are the beloved of God we meet in the faces of those we encounter on our path through life. My face, your face, the face of the stranger fleeing persecution, the face of the earth, the face of the thread that binds us together.