Jesus has just finished another feeding miracle – 4000 people this time! He has just finished a dispute with the Pharisees and the Sadducees. After they leave, Jesus turns to the disciples and says, “Be on your guard for the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
So, the twelve, being a bit “slow on the uptake” begin to ask each other, “Yeast? Did you bring the bread? I didn’t bring any bread? Who’s got the bread? Nobody told me bring any bread! I thought you brought the bread . . .”
“Oh, Ye of little faith,” Jesus responds to their bickering. “I wasn’t talking about bread,” he said, “I don’t need bread! I just fed about 10,000 people with 12 loaves of bread. How many baskets of bread did we have leftover? I wasn’t talking about bread! I was talking about the Pharisees and the Sadducees – the stuff they teach!”
“Oh, Yeah! We knew that . . .”
It is among that context that Jesus stops them at Caesarea Philippi and asks, “Who do the people say that the Son of Man is?”
Now when Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” He said, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Then Jesus replied, “Happy are you, Simon son of Jonah, because no human has shown this to you. Rather my Father who is in heaven has shown you. I tell you that you are Peter. And I’ll build my church on this rock. The gates of the underworld won’t be able to stand against it. I’ll give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Anything you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. Anything you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven.” Then he ordered the disciples not to tell anybody that he was the Christ.
Do you hear the tension? The twelve disciples have just been caught in an embarrassing misunderstanding; their ignorance was showing. Jesus confronts them, turns to them and basically says, “It’s time to ‘put up or shut up’! Who do you think I am?”
Everyday, we are faced with the same question, the same tension between who “people say” Jesus is and who we say he is. For way too long, we Christians have been leaving the answer to the “people” who speak the loudest, who have the most power. They get the attention. Their answers become our answers when we refuse to speak up.
But, we’re nice people. We don’t like conflict. We’d rather everybody just “move on” and leave the past in the past. After all, we rationalize, Jesus wouldn’t want us all fighting with each other.
No. He wouldn’t. He wouldn’t want us hating each other either! He wouldn’t want us allowing hate, ignorance, and misunderstanding to go unchallenged, either! Not when it tears apart the world he loves enough to die for!
Here he was, alone with his twelve best friends, and he didn’t let it go unchallenged. He didn’t let the powerful Pharisees and Sadducees go unchallenged. Its safe to say he wouldn’t let it go unchallenged today, either. The players have changed; the field is bigger; but the challenge remains – WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?
The tension lies between what popular, powerful, outspoken people say about Jesus and what we say – the anonymous, plain old everyday Christian. It is not enough to let others talk about Jesus and get all the attention. Their pronouncements, as were the “yeast” of the Pharisees and Sadducees, are motivated by power and control. Not by love. Not by sacrifice. Their motives may be cloudy, but they certainly aren’t Jesus’ motives.
When we remain silent, we implicitly agree! When we remain silent, those who do not know Jesus assume we, too, share the motivations of politicians, TV preachers, opinion-makers. I hope and pray we have higher motivations; that we know a different Jesus.
Karoline Lewis, in her “Dear Working Preachers” weekly blog, says
When I read once again this familiar exchange between Jesus and Peter, I imagined Jesus walking into the middle of the rally in Charlottesville, in the middle of the next rally and the next and the next, in the middle of [the terrorist tragedies of Barcelona], asking all there, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” and “But who do you say that I am?”
Imagine Jesus asking the white supremacists, the violent protesters, men and women with crosses, rebel flags and swastikas, people shouting and waving signs – “Who do you say that I am?”
“You keep using my name to justify your violence and hatred,” but, in the words of Inigo Montoya, from The Princess Bride, “I do not think it means what you think it means.”
“So, tell me,” Jesus might say, “just who do you think I am?”
In Charlottesville . . .
In Barcelona . . .
In Washington . . .
In Montgomery . . .
In Winfield . . .
“Who do you say that I am? You keep using my name, but I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Lewis continues in her article saying that we have to imagine Jesus asking us these questions, and take him seriously enough to answer both questions – to know who “others” say Jesus is and who we say that he is. We must be able to confess where the world gets it wrong, and even if we get it wrong.
So, let me play Peter, lead by example, and give you my clear, unequivocal answer.
Some folks might claim that Jesus is on the side of the powerful, the wealthy and white. He is. But I say he is also on the side of the weak, the poor, and people of all colors.
Some folks imply that Jesus only loves Christians. But, I say that Jesus loves all people – whether they believe in him or not.
And some folks might allow others to speak for them, and let their silence imply that Jesus loves only straight people. I believe that Jesus loves all people – gay or straight. He never met a person that he didn’t welcome and love. I defy anyone to find a place in the Gospels where Jesus continued the casting out of the outcast. He just doesn’t do it. And neither will I.
I realize that my statements might put me on a “different page” than some. And no one has to agree with me just because I say it. That’s the point. Decide for yourself.
The beauty about being a United Methodist it that, in the words of Wesley, as long as we preach “Christ and Christ crucified . . . in all other matters we think and let think.”
The beauty of America is that I can say what I believe without fear of repercussion! Or, at least, I should be able to.
Make up your own mind. The problem is when we allow others to do our thinking, our speaking, and our believing for us!
I believe that, deep down, many of us are not as hateful and judgmental as our silence would imply. I know the people of Winfield, Alabama to be kind and loving when given the opportunity. But, we also choose the easier path of silence sometimes.
Today’s passage demands that we step up like Peter and answer Jesus’ question for ourselves. Stop letting others answer for us. Because, sometimes, people who need to know Jesus hear those answers and run the other way!
It is time for all of us, who love like Jesus loved, seek to live like Jesus lived, to tell the world who we know Jesus to be.
It is time for us who have been loved by Jesus, forgiven by Jesus, accepted by Jesus to tell everyone who we say that he is.