Sunday, April 24, 2016

Jesus Asks: Who do you say that I am?

This is the 16th post in my series "Asking Myself," in which I weekly ponder one question posed in Teresa Blythe's rich book, 50 Ways to Pray. You can find the start of the series here and last week's post here. The first nine posts focused on theological musings, while posts 10 to the present prayerfully consider the specific questions Jesus posed in the New Testament.

Q: Who do you say that I am? (Luke 9:20)

Like last week, I've approached this question prayerfully, exploring it philosophically, reflectively, rather than trying to figure out the verse in context. I need only to know that Jesus asked this because some had been telling a jittery Herod Antipas (who had beheaded John the Baptist)

that John the Baptist had been raised from the dead. Others thought Jesus was Elijah or one of the other prophets risen from the dead. (Luke 9:7-8)

Thinking about why various people claimed Jesus was a resurrected prophet leads me to a rabbit hole that I don't want to fall down this morning. Let's just say, people then (as they do now) had some odd ideas about who Jesus was, and many of the ideas fed their worse fears and guilt. Peter, who knew Jesus up close and personal, had a moment of clarity in which he proclaimed:

You are the Messiah, sent from God. (Luke 9:20)

You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. (Matt 16:16)

or simply:

You are the Messiah. (Mark 8:29)

In Matthew's telling of the episode, Jesus gets excited about Simon Peter's answer. He declares a symbolic name change and promises to build his church on this foundational rock of truth. In Mark, Jesus affirms Peter's truth by urging all the disciples to hush it up for their own safety. In Luke, Jesus doesn't seem to respond to Peter's "right" answer. It makes me wonder if Jesus didn't ask the question because he wanted someone to shout out the right answer. Was He instead after the process each disciple would submit to if they quietly considered both who Jesus really was and who they said he was?

Might he be after that process in us, that fellowship with us, more than two millennia later?   

Who do I say Jesus is? He's God in the flesh (Col. 1:19), the radiance of the Father. He's our hero forerunner (Heb. 12:2). He's our clearest portrait of who God is (Col. 1:15), our gold standard. He's also a bit of an enigma. I like most of what he says and does as recorded in the gospels... but still some behaviors and some red letter passages snag me up a bit. But generally, I say Jesus is selfless, counter-cultural then and now, down to earth yet otherworldly. He outsmarts the conniving and attracts the unschooled. He's a humble leader. He's a courageous warrior whose only weapons are love and mercy, whose captives are also his beloved bride. 

He's a healer, not an agitator. But sometimes he overturns tables and curses fig trees. He's certainly feisty enough to climb out of the grave. But he does it so discretely that he looks like a gardener to Mary through her lovesick tears. He looks like a random traveler, so nondescript that even his followers failed to recognize the one they gossiped about on their way to Emmaus, and even his closest confidants could not recognize their best friend when he showed up for dinner, albeit three days late, popping right into the middle of their conversation about him

It seems it was as difficult to commit the man Jesus to memory as it is to put him into words. Who can we say he is? How can we know him the way we long to know him, the way he longs to be known, the way we hope he knows us?

I seem instead to know Him very abstractly. Idealistically. Jesus is, after all, the reason I'm a Christian. He's also the reason I exist (Col. 1:16) and that everything exists (Col. 1:17). His personality is the very best parts of my own. I feel truest when I follow his examples. I feel invigorated by pondering His person and inspired by his prayers, and invited into The Story by his stories. Jesus is the goal and prize I pursue (Phil. 3:14), but haven't obtained yet. He's the one who owns me as His prized possession (James 1:18). He's the reasons heaven will be heaven; he is eternal life (1 John 1:1, 5:20).

And I'm not waiting until eternity to meet Jesus. Pondering His questions, offering Him my answers is my conversation with Him, my getting to know Him in the here and now.

Who do you say that He is?

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