“Who do I say you are?” – Jesus

A homily, based on Mark 8.31-38, preached with the people of the Episcopal Church congregations of All Saints’, Clinton, SC, and Epiphany, Laurens, SC, on Wednesday, February 21, 2018

“Who do you say I am?” Jesus asked his disciples.(1) Peter, always the one with the greatest temerity, though, oft too, with the least lucidity, for once gets something right: “You are the Messiah!”(2)

His identity established, it is essential, crucial that Jesus declare what kind of Messiah he is – one without a messiah-complex, one without any pretensions of earthly conquest and glory, one who will suffer and die, and, yes, be raised from the dead. Still, the shock of his announcement leaves the last lost on his disciples and, once again, Peter, fearlessly, if also stupidly, speaks up, rebuking Jesus, provoking Jesus’ sternest response, calling Peter by the name of the chiefest adversary, greatest tempter and tormentor: “Satan”!

Get Thee Behind Me, Satan (Rétire-toi, Satan) (1886-1896), James Tissot (1836-1902)

But let’s not be too hard on Peter, who, in this story is our representative. Thus, let us not be too hard on ourselves. For Palestine is overrun by an oppressive Roman Empire and within the lore of the law and prophecies of Judaism, there are two distinct strands of Messianic thought – one, a triumphal conqueror fashioned in the image of King David; the other, a suffering servant. Speaking for myself, if I was oppressed, which Messiah would I want to come to my rescue? One who would liberate me from my travail or one who would share my trials? The first!

Yet, notwithstanding our understandable expectations, Jesus, having defined his Messiahship, describes our discipleship. As no servant is greater than the master, as he goes, so do we, following along his self-denying, cross-bearing, life-losing way.

Jesus tells us this not because he is a glutton for punishment, his or ours. Jesus is not a masochistic-sadist, but rather a realist. For this, self-sacrifice for the sake of love, is the way of God, Jesus’ God, our God who creates, redeems, and sanctifies. And this, self-sacrifice for the sake of love, is the only thing that can ennoble and embolden us to live life in this world where the next test, trial, or tribulation (and last Ash Wednesday-Valentine’s Day’s massacre of seventeen of our sisters and brothers at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, being a most recent example…a most egregious reality) is always but the next moment away.


Illustration: Get behind me Satan, James Tissot (1836-1902)

(1) Mark 8.27
(2) Mark 8.29

2 thoughts on ““Who do I say you are?” – Jesus

  1. Paul,
    Thank you for this!! Jesus is definitely a realist!! For me I think the challenge is that the “tests” are coming so close together it’s hard to breathe, or catch our breath in between them. Yesterday a Prince George’s Police Officer awoke in his home on his day off. Who knows what he had planned for that day. I’m guessing he hadn’t planned on dying. But a neighbor of his (whom he only knew in passing) sought him out during a domestic disturbance and her estranged husband killed the officer with a shotgun, then took his gun and drove away. With police in pursuit, the suspect drove 10 miles away before jumping out of his vehicle and shooting at police officers before being killed by the responding officers. Many people who were out on very busy highway 210 (a road I take almost daily), were also in jeopardy but thankfully weren’t injured. The police officer leaves behind his mom, wife and four kids….the killer had a long record of domestic violence with his current wife, and previous wives and girlfriends. How could he get a gun??? This “test” of guns in the wrong hands and the gun control debate must come to some sort of resolution!!! I’m just distraught but believe that there’s some lesson we are supposed to be learning from this but I don’t know what it is.

    Much love!!


  2. Loretta, what a horrible story of life in this world…a life overwhelmed with gun violence. I lift that officer’s life to God’s glory, praying his peace. I pray, too, for solace and strength to and for his family, his fellow officers, and the larger community. Again, a horrible story.

    I, too, have no ready responses regarding what we are to learn from these all-too-frequent (verily, one is one too many) tests of guns in the hands of those who will to (and do) commit the violent acts of injuring and killing others. I read recently a post of another who advocates repeal of the Second Amendment, the banning of all gun sales to anyone (presumably not in the military, law enforcement, or security professions), and government-sponsored buy-backs of all guns possessed by citizens (that is, again, presumably, non-military, law enforcement, and security personnel). I appreciate the absolutizing clarity of his proposal. Still, I’m not sure how practical it is (and I say this notwithstanding what I believe would be the fiercest counter-advocacy of organizations like the NRA), for, as but one example, there are many who are avid hunters who also are responsible citizens.

    This said, I return to your query about what we are to learn from these tests. I will think more about this, for surely, I pray, there is some lesson we, as a nation of individuals and communities, are to discern, that is, come to know so to guide and govern our daily and future conduct.

    With love and hope for peace,

    Liked by 1 person

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