There’s a Jesus meme that’s been going around for awhile. I don’t know for how long or where it came from originally. It sometimes has different pictures, but always Jesus and a group of people. The text goes like this.
And Jesus said to the theologians, “Who do you say that I am?”
They replied, “You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being, the kerygma of which we find the ultimate meaning in our interpersonal relationships.”
And Jesus said, “… What?”
Sorry theologians, no offence meant. It’s just a funny take on that scene in the gospels when Jesus asks the disciples who people say he is. They have a few answers - John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets - and then Jesus asks them who they say he is. Peter answers that he’s the messiah. Jesus blesses him for giving the right answer, there are fireworks, a marching band plays, there’s confetti and a parade.
Kidding. That’s as ridiculous as the joke about the the theologians. Jesus does seem to indicate that he’s right, but there’s none of the other stuff.
I wonder, though, if Peter’s anymore “right” with his answer than the theologians. We certainly celebrate him as giving the correct answer, divinely inspired and all, but there ought to be a followup question, just like with the theologians: what do you mean by that, Peter?
In Jesus’ day, as today, there likely would have been some very different ideas of what the messiah would look like, sound like and act like. Maybe the reason the people thought he was John or the return of Elijah or one of the prophets was because they recognized that in him. He looked and sounded like them, or at least the stories they knew about them, and they found that familiar. For many, it’s likely that Jesus didn’t act like the messiah they’d learned to expect, if, indeed, they’d learned exactly what the messiah would be. Some would have expected a warrior leading an army, some a great king, some may even have hoped for a humble, peaceful, inspired preacher who taught love and lived everything he taught. The point is, “messiah” is just a label until you unpack it.
And how do you? I think that’s one of the great things about this story. I imagine Jesus asking the disciples what others are saying and the disciples are happy to answer what they’ve heard. After all, they’re simply reporting what they’d been told. But then, Jesus asks what they think. I bet there was quiet for a minute or two, maybe a few sideways glances, pensive looks, maybe even a few incomplete sentences as they try to formulate an answer. And then Peter answers “the messiah.” Imagine Jesus then saying “what does that mean to you, Peter?”
I think that’s the question for all of us. Sure, we know what others have said, what we’ve been told, even what we learned in Sunday School or Bible Study, and we for sure know what Peter answered. But ultimately, we need to ask ourselves the same question: who do I think Jesus is? And if your answer is the messiah, then what does that mean to you?
I wonder. If Jesus had asked Peter what “messiah” means to him, I wonder what he would have said. Whatever answer he gave, I bet Jesus just said “okay, I’ll show you. Watch and learn.”