On the way Jesus asks his disciples the most important question, the one that we all need to face at some time, if not in life, then certainly in death – who is Jesus?
The disciples have spent the last couple of years getting to know Jesus, treading in his footsteps and bathing in the dust kicked up by his sandals. They have witnessed the most amazing miracles, seen people healed and restored and even brought back to life. Thousands have been fed, and others have received hospitality from Jesus in ways no other religious leader would have offered. They have sat at his feet and listened to him bringing alive the Kingdom of God, they have witnessed him challenge those in authority in such a way that has left them speechless. They have walked with him, and camped with him, laughed and cried with him, and now they come to a turning point.
Sometimes when I read of Jesus and the disciples travelling, I imagine Jesus forging ahead whilst the disciples traipse behind trying to makes sense of what has just happened. Other times the reverse, the disciples bickering with each other whilst Jesus lingers behind listening in. Today I imagine Jesus walking alongside different people at different times in the journey. And as on any good hike or ramble, when time slows down and the rhythm of footsteps helps focus the mind, conversations take on a deeper meaning. This isn’t just a journey from A-B, but a pilgrimage.
As Jesus slowly weaves between each of the disciples, he asks each of them the same question. The mission is changing shape and energy, Jesus knows that they are now heading towards Jerusalem and he wants to know if the disciples are truly with him. He knows each of them, their strengths and weaknesses, what makes them laugh or cry. Jesus knows what made each of them give up their day jobs to follow him, he knows their hopes and dreams, their doubts and fears; but do they know him?
If they don’t know him, then what is to come is going to be even harder. And if they haven’t worked out who he truly is, then will anyone else?
Who do people say that I am?
That’s an easy question to answer – all sorts of rumours are going around, John the Baptist, Elijah, another of the prophets of yore – all dead.
But who do you say that I am?
Now that’s a trickier question .
If Jesus is just another Rabbi, there are plenty more to follow if things go wrong. If he is a prophet, well they come and go. If he is just a good man, a friend, a brother, well, hasn’t this been fun. If Jesus is more than that, if he is ‘the one’ then life has changed for good, and perhaps for worse too.
Just like a marriage begins with courtship, ‘walking out’ with each other, ‘getting to know all about you’, there comes a point when a decision has to be made: is this the one? If this is the one then life is about to change forever, for better for worse, in sickness and in health…. If not, then it’s game over. Time to move on.
Have the disciples go to the point where they know Jesus so well that they are ready to commit everything to him, that they are unable to imagine their lives without him?
Who do you say that I am?
Peter is the one who knows, and is willing to make a stand and speak it out loud:
You are the Messiah.
So Jesus stops the journey. They sit and listen in to Jesus as he explains what it means to be ‘married’ to him. There is no fairy tale wedding, instead there is suffering and rejection and torture to the point of death, and there is nothing they will be able to do to stop it. Are they ready for this? Others are crowded around, are they too ready to follow? Are they ready to ‘pick up their cross’ whatever that might mean? Following Jesus isn’t all about free meals and signs and wonders, it is about being willing to lose your life, to give up your independence for the greater good – the good of the kingdom of God. Are they ready to do that? Are they willing to forsake all others, including themselves, for the love of God? Until death us do part?
There is, however, a ‘happy ever after’: Jesus will be killed, but life will be triumphant. Three days after his murder, his burial, Jesus will rise, and those who give of their life, whether through martyrdom or sacrificial living, will find eternal life with Jesus.
It’s a choice each of us has to face. Peter understood, and then very quickly misunderstood: there are often misunderstandings in a marriage, but commitment and hope and of course love, can enable a couple to move on from them and into a deeper level of trust. We have to decide just who Jesus is. We have to decide why we come to church, and then choose how to live our our lives according to the decisions we have made. We can put off making a commitment for years and years and years, and never know the joy or the celebration of being part of something so much more than just the sum of 1+1. We can hide from the truths that whisper into our hearts and urge us to take that next step of faith, for now, for the whole of our lives, but we cannot hide from it in death.
Jesus walks beside us along the way of our lives, and he asks us, ‘Who am I?’, are you ready to answer him, ‘You are the one.’
Something to do:
- Light a candle and read the gospel passage out loud, read it here,
- Go for a walk with friends, stop to read the passage at a suitable point, then discuss what it means to you as you continue your journey.
- Play an icebreaker game to get to know friends better – for ideas, click here.
Something to watch:
Something to think about:
- What is the most surprising thing about yourself – is there something about you that would completely surprise people who think they know you?
- Try describing yourself (and others) in just a few words.
- Try describing Jesus in just a few words.
- Why do you think the disciples spoke about other peoples perceptions of Jesus, but were reluctant to share their own?
- What was it about Peter that enabled him to speak out?
- Are there times, when, like Peter, you have been surprised at insights you have been given?
- Is there a sense that Peter has ‘made it’ when he makes his messianic statement?
- Why do you think Peter fell so quickly from grace?
- What does it mean to ‘take up your cross’, or to ‘lose your life’ for the sake of the gospel?
- How can we be a people more willing to abandon our sense of independence?
Something to pray:
we come to acknowledge you again as our Lord and Saviour; to declare our faith in you as the one who sets us free, delivering us from all that holds us captive and denies us life.
Yet we come also knowing how easily we turn serving you into serving self, being happy enough to receive but reluctant to give, ready to profess allegiance when t suits us but unwilling to take up our cross should following [rove costly.
Equip us, then to honour you not just with protestations of loyalty but above all with lives committed to your kingdom and lived in obedience to your will.
In your name we pray, Amen. Nick Fawcett