Put yourself in the disciples sandals for a minute. Who is Jesus, really?
When we read the gospel of Mark, we already know the answer to that question. It's in Mark's opening line: "the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." And if we aren't familiar with Mark's gospel, our twenty-first century minds might still have an answer, acquired from a couple of thousand years of teaching, if not a few years of Sunday School.
But the disciples don't have that advantage. When we hear Jesus ask them, in Mark 8:27, "who do people say that I am?" the best that they can do is what they've personally heard over the last few months as they've travelled with him: the raw, immediate answers of people who directly experienced Jesus.
Would you give that kind of answer? Could you give that kind of answer?
Centuries of teaching about Jesus, talking about Jesus, even living like Jesus, has certainly brought a wealth of information, thought and even action. But sometimes I wonder if it doesn't mean that we answer that question based on what we think we know rather than what we truly know in our hearts. Because that's where Jesus is. Jesus is alive in the experience of Jesus in the world, when we live out the presence of Jesus in us.
So I'd like to take back that earlier sentence, "the disciples don't have that advantage." I'm not so sure it's an advantage that we think we might know so much about Jesus.
When Jesus then asks "who do you say that I am?" he isn't looking for a label, a precise description or even a mission statement. I think he wants to know how the disciples have connected with him. They've been with him pretty much 24/7 for awhile now and he wants to know that they "get" him.
And Peter certainly gets the right label. "You're the Messiah," he says. But when Jesus starts to talk about what's ahead in his journey, Peter wants him to stop. He doesn't yet understand. The life Jesus brings isn't the power-seeking, material driven, earthly life the disciples know. It's about the richness of spirit, the sense of wellbeing and wholeness that comes with the love and grace of God.
That's not to say the two aren't connected. Jesus' call to feed the hungry, heal the sick and care for the poor and disenfranchised wasn't just a metaphor for spiritual wellbeing, he truly meant to revolutionize how we approach our relationship with others, especially those in need. That's what The Way of Jesus is about, the wholeness of body, mind and spirit in our connectedness to each other. That brings new life.
That's not always an easy journey. It's not always hope-filled and joyful, there is doubt and hurt. There are crosses to bear and crucifixions to encounter. But there is Jesus, walking with us, reminding us that in the death of the life we know is the new life of God's world.
Do you know this Jesus?