“Who do you say that I am,” Jesus asks Peter.
“Who do you say that I am,” Jesus asks me.
I avert my eyes, unsure how to answer. If I follow in Peter’s footsteps, playing my hand, playing a bold declaration, playing into the script, my response will be met with nothing but a gag order.
But if I answer with the final words of my previous post, I may not end up any closer to a productive conversation. At least that’s what one of my friends said on Facebook:
“Jesus was many things – prince of peace, wonderful counselor, but to call him an asshole is honestly offensive and belittling. You can do better.”
All I can think to myself is that it’s a good thing Jesus is supernaturally patient with us stubborn, bull-headed disciples. You’d have to be, hanging out with folks like us.
But seriously, why the gag order in the first place? What’s wrong with telling others that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God, the one who…is what exactly?
I think it’ll take some time to unpack.
The world I grew up in, Jesus wore the mantle of Messiah as title in the same way he wore Christ as his last name. It was all one and the same. The title Messiah meant, most significantly, that God sent Jesus to earth in order to save us wretched sinners from the coming punishment we deserve for cheating on our diet. As if on cue, David Bazan pipes up with another disbelieving verse:
Wait just a minute
You expect me to believe
That all this misbehaving
Came from one enchanted tree?
And helpless to fight it
We should all be satisfied
With this magical explanation
For why the living die?
– David Bazan, Hard to Be (Curse Your Branches, 2009)
Supposedly that’s the very reason why it’s hard to be a decent human being.
God sent Jesus to come to earth, but by-and-large we ignore his life, because only one thing matters. Jesus would mount a rescue operation, and in doing so, would de in our place. It’s a war-torn buddy flick waiting to be made. Jesus enters our ranks, fights alongside us in the trenches (or was it the beaches of Normandy?), and inevitably takes the bullet that aimed right between our eyes.
How now shall we live, knowing that he stood in our place, and we made it home to the land of the brave and the home of the free?
But in an unexpected plot twist, one that confounds critics and popular audiences alike, the bullet Jesus takes comes from smoking .22 his dad is now swinging over his shoulder as he walks into the sunset. Just another day in America. Just another day at war.
Here’s a question: is it a friendly fire incident, or did Jesus cross enemy lines to join us? What sort of treachery is this thing we call salvation?
In the world I grew up in, salvation – from the wrath of God – was blanketed in those beautiful words from the ninth chapter of Isaiah quoted by my friend above. These are words I long and love to hear each and every advent. You can just ask my family who must endure listening to Handel’s breathtaking Messiah on repeat in the days leading up to Christmas:
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
– Isaiah 9:6
Many Christians have believed, for a long period of time that Jesus is this Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. It’s in the earliest of traditions and continues to this day.
For my own part, in the reality of my day to day life, I am often confounded by what it might actually mean that Jesus is the Prince of Peace. What do these prophetic poetics mean for us disciples walking the road with Jesus as his ministry unfolds? What does it mean for those of us who are trying – desperately trying, like Peter and the disciples – to understand what he’s on about? What does it mean for those of us who struggle to comprehend nearly each and every time?
That’s where I’m at. As may have become obvious, I grew up in one Christian world, and have emerged into another. I grew up evangelical (still am, by all accounts) and I planted roots in the Anglican tradition nearly a decade ago.
And it is here, in my own local community, part of a worldwide worldwide communion of believers, that my faith continues to change and evolve. I’m still coming to grips with all that this means (may it ever be so!). The reality is this: I’m still struggling deep within myself. But I know I’m not alone. Brian McLaren borrows from Spanish poet Antonio Machado when he says of the Christian life that “we make the road by walking.”
On the road we tread there are many conversation partners. There are many other pilgrims. Some share similar experiences, others do not. For my part, I know that I have plenty to learn from each.
On the road we tread there are many conversation partners. Indeed, there is an entire cloud of witnesses: those who have walked this road before, and who have also sought after Jesus revealed to them in the bread and the wine, finding their hearts strangely warmed, perhaps even lighting their hearts aflame.
On the road we tread there are many conversation partners. The scriptures handed down to us, the scriptures containing all things necessary for salvation. The scriptures that tell the story of Yahweh’s covenant with Israel and the whole earth. The scriptures that witness to God’s deep, unflappable fidelity (even as we look for the loopholes that will let us out of the deal).
And then there’s Jesus himself. The Jesus of the scriptures, to be sure. But also the one to whom we pray, the one with whom we walk and talk along the unfolding road. The one who is also moving in and out of the pack, walking with others, talking with others who need accompaniment too.
There are days I know that Jesus is right beside me. And there are others I feel a lot more like Jesus’ parents who are panic-stricken when they can’t find their tweenaged son on the journey home. There are some days it seems that Jesus is gone, and I don’t know where. And on those days I know that I need to look once again for him in his father’s house.