But who do you say that I am?


Scripture: Mark 8: 27-33 Nigel Bunce

Who do you say that I am?  Today’s Gospel is very familiar. Jesus asks the disciples who people think he is, and who they, the disciples think he is. I’ve spoken before about how Peter, the impetuous disciple, jumped in feet first. He was the first to recognize Jesus’ messiahship

The disciples probably mumbled something like this. “Well, maybe John the Baptist, or maybe Elijah, or some other prophet.” But Peter said, “You are the Messiah.” However, there’s a little oddity. Why did Jesus, “sternly order the disciples not to tell anyone” about who he was?

The Messianic Secret

Because, this isn’t the only time he said it. We have already seen other occasions in this year of reading Mark’s Gospel. Most recently, when Jesus healed the synagogue leader’s little daughter who was near death.  

Biblical scholars have wondered about this secrecy for many years. It’s even got a name: the “Messianic secret”. Wrede, a German scholar, proposed a solution to the Messianic secret. Maybe Jesus himself didn’t believe that he was the Messiah. So, perhaps early Christians only began to claim that he had been the Messiah after his death?

However, I prefer the possibility that Jesus didn’t want people to get the wrong idea about who he was. That he wasn’t the ‘traditional’ all-glorious Messiah who would, for example, boot out the Roman occupying force, and usher in an era of God’s righteous rule.

Mark, himself, was in no doubt. His Gospel’s very first sentence is, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

A key moment, or turning point in Mark’s Gospel

Actually, today’s passage in a key turning point in Mark’s Gospel. Up to now, no-one except Jesus himself, Mark, the author, and we, the readers, realize that Jesus is the Messiah. Not the disciples, not his family, not the people in the synagogues where he preached.

However, from this point on, Jesus declared openly that he was the suffering servant style of Messiah. In that new paradigm, he announced three times that he must go to Jerusalem. And that he must suffer and die.

In the moment of today’s Gospel turning point, Simon Peter couldn’t accept that. He had the traditional Jewish understanding. For him, the Messiah would be a glorious figure. He would deliver Israel from oppression. Not someone who would suffer and die.

But, who was Jesus?

Who do you say that I am?  For a moment, let’s take away all our Christian teaching. We find ourselves with many questions. Who was Jesus? Was he the Messiah? Literally that word means someone anointed or appointed by God to do something.

What was he appointed to do? Whatever that something was, did it make him the Son of God? Or is that a separate question?

A link to Wisdom literature

I found an indirect link to these questions in our reading from the Wisdom of Solomon. Wisdom (Sophia in Greek) is a Jewish attribute of God that is more than ordinary wiseness. She (always feminine) is the creative aspect of deity.

She became in Biblical literature the all-encompassing intelligence of God, the helper of the Creator, the foundation of the world. Today’s reading begins, “Wisdom is a reflection of the eternal light … an image of God’s goodness.”

Some authors see a parallel between Wisdom in the Hebrew Scriptures and the logos (the Word) in the opening chapter of John’s Gospel. Like the logos, Wisdom was with God since time began. “She is a spotless mirror of the workings of God. Evil cannot prevail against her, and she orders all things well.”

Who was, or is, Jesus for you?

That is, who do you say that I am?

Back to our Gospel reading. People continue to debate who and what Jesus was. Was he the Son of God? Or was he just a great teacher and faith healer? Someone who told us all to love one another, and thereby bring God’s day of righteousness closer? Or, make the world a better place.

I certainly can’t tell you how you ought to answer these questions. It’s not my place to tell you what to believe. Any more than I should tell you who to vote for in next Monday’s federal election.

But, more than that, the question of who Jesus was, and is, explains peoples’ continuing fascination with the Gospels and with Christianity in general. Just suppose that there were one answer.

OK. That’s it. So, now we know exactly who Jesus was, why he came, and what that says about how we should live our lives. Why would we need to read and think about Scripture any more? The question is unanswerable in an absolute sense. We each have to figure it out for ourself.  There’s no single right answer!

Tradition — or not?

More than fifty years ago, Richard Niebuhr wrote a book called Christ and Culture. He proposed that Christians tend to fall into two distinct groups. Some support tradition, and tend to oppose cultural changes. Ideas like recognizing same sex relationships and medical aid in dying.

Others look for evidence of God’s continuing revelation to humanity in new ideas. We met these arguments last week when I spoke about the Tradition of the Elders. We can’t help but view the Jesus story through the lens of our own upbringing and our own culture.

That’s why, for example, I believe that we should support the Indigenous expression of the Anglican Church of Canada. Recognizably Anglican, but seeing the world and the Jesus story through an Indigenous lens. In other words, a lens different from my own. Amen.