In the stories about Jesus (Christians call them “Gospels”) there is a scene where Jesus is walking with his disciples. He’s been traveling around Galilee (in the northern part of modern Israel) healing people, teaching in the synagogues and hillsides, and generally getting quite famous. One day as he is on the road with his friends (the disciples) he asks them who the people seem to think he is. The disciples tell him that some people think he’s the long awaited for return of the prophet Elijah. Others think he’s John the Baptist back from the dead. (Ironically John was one of Jesus’ cousins so there might even have been a family resemblance.) Other people aren’t sure so they just think he’s a prophet like in the “old days” (which is the position that Islam holds on who Jesus was). Then, in my mind, I see Jesus stopping and taking a moment to look into he eyes of each of his disciples before he asks the next question, “Who do you say that I am?”
When I read this story I put myself into the group of disciples and imagine Jesus asking me that same question. I could give an answer like Peter does, because it is truly what I believe. Yet, I think about how my life doesn’t often get shaped by the reality necessitated by that response. I could give a long drawn out theological answer, because I have in some of my necessary theology work in graduate school and again as I worked to get ordained as an Elder in the United Methodist Church. Yet that type of response makes Jesus into a theological, philosophical, or even a scientific object to be studied, understood, or anything but the living breathing resurrected Son of God. There I go again using all those “churchy words” to describe the man who was born in Bethlehem, fled to Egypt as a refugee, moved to Nazareth in Galilee and became the person whose life and teachings have revolutionized our world today. I stand there among the disciples, and while I think about how I should answer, or how I could answer Jesus’ question I’m struck by the most simple answer available. Jesus is a mystery to me.
More than any other human, because everyone is a mystery to one extent or another. Jesus is a teacher, a healer, a friend, and a brother. Yet he’s also the Son, the revealed Word of God, the Messiah/Christ (they mean the same thing but the former is Hebrew and the latter Greek), he’s the firstborn from the dead, the resurrected Lord of all Creation, and he’s both big (cosmic) and small (personal) all at the same time. Jesus is somehow 100% human and also 100% divine. Jesus is alive, but he was also dead. Jesus was “in the beginning” and he is also at the end. Everything is brought together in him, and yet we live as if that isn’t the case (especially among those people who claim to be Jesus’ disciples “the Church”). Jesus is a lot like Captain America, he’s so good he’s unbelievable. It just doesn’t make sense that someone could be so truly human. Then I remember that Jesus was there when life was created. He is the Word through whom all of Creation was formed. If anyone understands what it means to be human, it is him. Maybe the mystery shouldn’t be me trying to understand Jesus, the mystery should be why am I not more like him.
Maybe the question “Who do you say that I am?” is less about who Jesus is, and more about who I am in light of Jesus. Who is Jesus? What must I do to be more fully human, even as he is fully human? Humanity was created to be the bearers of the image of God. Jesus did that perfectly, and by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, maybe one day I can be better at revealing Jesus to the world because of who my life says he is.