Today is the day when our apostle-hero, Peter, actually blurts out the right answer to one
of Jesus’ questions. We recall a couple weeks ago when Peter had the “brilliant” idea of building 3 trailers on the mountain so Jesus, Moses and Elijah could have their own holy trailer park. We remember when Jesus referred to him as a “man of little faith.” But
today, when Jesus asks, “Who do YOU say I am?” it’s Peter who says simply, “You are the Son of the Living God.” And Jesus is pleasantly stunned by the answer and says, “Wow, Peter, this time you’re actually right about something, but that’s only because God has revealed this truth to you!” And then Peter is given what Catholics refer to as the “power of the keys”: “what you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, what you loosen on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
“Who do you say I am?” is still Jesus’ question posed to us today, and it continues
to be debated with as much passion and fervor as ever. Some call Jesus the political revolutionary, the liberator, the Caucasian, the Black African, the Socialist, the Capitalist,
the Legalist, the Institutional Christ, the Sophia Christ, the Politically-Correct Christ, the Republican Christ, the Democrat Christ, etc… We are all involved in the work of creating our own “Christology”, a fancy term for deciding what Jesus the Christ is really all about. And all the while we are revising and rethinking and adjusting our Christologies, most of us don’t realize that we are engaging in the very same sort of theological dialogue that the early bishops of the Church engaged in. And sometimes our intricate web of reasoning
takes us far away from the practical belief of Peter into an intellectual realm that doesn’t really satisfy us when life’s tragedies strike us: when we lose a spouse or partner, when we find ourselves suddenly unemployed, when someone we love betrays us.
We have a tendency to see Christ in ways that are familiar to us, so we can better
connect with the Christ Essence. This is why in Mexico, Jesus is portrayed as a Hispanic male, in Japan he is Asian and pale skinned. If we are fans of capitalism, we see evidence in Christ’s teachings that he, too, was a free market kind of guy. On the contrary, if we are anti-capitalist, we can also find enough evidence to support our belief that Jesus was the first socialist. We read the Scriptures about Jesus and on one level, we can’t help but cut and paste our own views onto him. And all of that is fine, as long as we recognize that that’s what we’re doing—we’re struggling to make sense of the Jesus of history and make him relevant for our lives today.
Some of the great Christian theologians of the past century are magically transported to First Century Palestine and find themselves in the company of Jesus. And Jesus looks at the men and asks them, “So, who do YOU say that I am?”
Karl Barth stands up and says,”You are the totaliter aliter, the vestigious trinitatum who speaks to us in the modality of Christo-monism.” And he falls to his knees.
Not prepared for Barth’s short response, Paul Tillich jumps in, “You are he who heals our ambiguities and overcomes our existential estrangement; you are he who speaks of the theonomous viewpoint of the analogy of our being and the ground of all possibilities.” He, too, falls to his knees.
Reinhold Niebuhr, already on his knees, clears his throat and says, all in one breath, “You are the impossible possibility who makes us children of light, you are the overwhelming oughtness in the midst of our frail condition of estrangement and brokenness, in the contiguity and existential anxieties of our ontological relationships.”
Finally Karl Rahner, architect of the Second Vatican Council, falls to his knees and raises his voice, “You are my Oppressed One, my soul’s shalom, the One who was, who is, and who shall be, who has never left us alone in the struggle, the event of liberation in the lives of the oppressed struggling for freedom, and whose Presence fills and sustains the primordial absence with completeness and power.”
And Jesus, who has all the while been squatting and writing in the sand with a stick, stands up, looks each man directly in the eye and asks, “Huh?”
In one sense our theologizing of Christ, our different answers to the question “who do
you say I am” is beyond the comprehension of the historical Jesus and his followers. We have 21 centuries between them and us and a lot has happened to our understandings of what is true and reliable. We still believe, of course, that Jesus is Immanuel–God with us, but we find inspiration and sustenance in the social sciences, the evolution of political theory and a a million other influences that have, I believe, also been fruits of the blowing of the Holy Spirit. That is what “God with us” means, after all, but that does not replace the simple statements of faith that all of us, at one point or another, will have to make about this Jesus. On our deathbed, abstruse theologies and christologies will no longer serve us the way a heartfelt confession of faith will.
That’s why Jesus is so delighted with Peter’s answer, “You are the Son of the Living
God!” What other people said about him wasn’t that far off, for example when they said he was a prophet, or even Elijah himself returned from heaven. It showed that people were thinking and reflecting on their experience of Jesus, and that was a good and necessary thing. But Peter was the only one who was able to suspend his intellectual activity and move directly into his heart center. He didn’t need to “understand”, he needed to “believe.”
What about us?? Who do we say Jesus is? Is Jesus an abstraction or a philosophical
construct to us without any practical value in our life? Does our Christology and theology remove Jesus from usefulness when we’re making difficult decisions or grieving or
experiencing frustration? If this is the case, we won’t have anything to cling to in times of trial and pain because in those times, intellectual things just don’t matter.
When we move from our head and into our heart, we can see Jesus in very simple terms and he will not be identical for any two people because the human heart has its own
wisdom that the intellect knows nothing about. “You are the Son of the Living God!” Peter cried out from the depths of his being, in a statement of heartfelt faith. It was the moment Jesus was waiting for all along, because only after Peter’s confession of heart-centered faith did Jesus utter the words, “And you are the rock on which I build my church.”
The church of Jesus Christ ultimately isn’t theological or Christological at all—it’s about love, irrational love that flies in the face of logic. And right now, as we release our theological hangups and preferences, and surrender to faith, Jesus is saying to us, “YOU are the rock on which I build my church.” We don’t need special training or degrees to do the work of Jesus, we just have to say, “I believe. I’m in!”, and God does the rest.