"But, Who Are Y'all Saying That I Am? (12th Pentecost, Proper 16A)

 

 

Matthew 16:13-20

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

 

 

“But, Who Are Y’all Saying That I Am?”

XII Pentecost (Proper 16A)

By the Rev. Guillermo Arboleda

 

Jesus comes to the disciples this week with a familiar but poignant question: “Who are the people saying that the Son of Man is?” (Matt 16:13, my translation). You’re in here and I want to know what people are saying out there. What does Average Joseph from Galilee think about me?

 

“Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Matt 16:14, NRSV). And then Jesus replies, "But, who are y'all saying that I am?" (Matt 16:15, my translation).*** The same question holds just as much weight today in our world. What are people saying about Jesus, and what are we saying about Jesus in light of that?

 

Some say Jesus is John the Baptist, a wildman from the desert who eats locusts and honey and dresses camel in camel hair. He was a voice from God crying out in the wilderness and he would not let anyone silence him. John spoke for God to the people and defended them against religious and political rulers who would abuse them. He stood his ground for the common people through his powerful work of preaching. And when they repented, John baptized them for the forgiveness of their sins in the Jordan River. Like John, Jesus continues the ministry of preaching and baptism.

 

Jesus replied, "But, who are y'all saying that I am?"

 

But others say that Jesus is more like Elijah the miracle-worker. He too spoke the word of God to authorities and rulers, but did so more dramatically and triumphantly. Elijah challenged the priests and prophets of Baal to a sacrifice competition, asking their so-called god to send fire on a bull they had sacrificed. Elijah also cared for the poor and needy by ensuring that a widow’s pantry would not run out of flour and oil during a drought. Then, God used Elijah to prophesy the end of that long drought. Like Elijah, Jesus heals the sick and feed the hungry with supernatural power from God.

 

Jesus replied, "But, who are y'all saying that I am?"

 

Still others say Jesus is Jeremiah, the wailing prophet. Jeremiah may have lived the hardest life of any of the Old Testament prophets. He lived in Jerusalem and had access to the king, but his words from the Lord were too challenging to the status quo. No one believed that the God of Israel would allow Jerusalem to be defeated in battle. So Jeremiah was repeatedly berated and beaten by his colleagues and by the people of Jerusalem. He was thrown into a ditch and left for dead. This is ultimately how Jesus will be treated. He will be beaten and flogged and hung up on a tree in the most shameful type of execution possible.

 

Each of these comparisons captures something true about Jesus’ life and character. Like John, Jesus preached a message of repentance and baptism. Like Elijah, Jesus performed miracles and signs of God’s power among the people. And like Jeremiah, Jesus spoke God’s truth to power and suffered for it.

 

Jesus replied, "But, who are y'all saying that I am?"

 

Today, people are still wrestling with the question of who Jesus is. Some want to call him the founder of Christianity, on par with other founders of world religions like Moses, Muhammad, or the Buddha. Jesus, like many others, simply points to great truths about the Divine out of his personal experience. His path is like all the others and leads to the same end.

 

Jesus replied, "But, who are y'all saying that I am?"

 

Others say Jesus is simply an inspirational figure, like Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, or Mother Teresa. Jesus had powerful things to say in his day but has been enshrined in the pantheon of “great people” whose images support the status quo. In this vein, Jesus simply delivers pithy quotes about peace and justice that fit nicely on t-shirts and in tweets.

 

Jesus replied, "But, who are y'all saying that I am?"

 

While Jesus may bear similarities to many of these people, he is much more. Jesus doesn’t only represent the best of prophets and sages. Jesus represents the best of humanity. We believe that Jesus is the perfect Image of God the Father, the only-begotten Son of God, and the Word of God made Flesh. We believe that Jesus shows us a new way to be human by showing us what always could have been.

 

We believe that Jesus is Love and Joy and Hope and Peace walking around among us as our brother. In the words of the great hymn, we proclaim, “Jesus, thou art all compassion; pure, unbounded love thou art” (“Love Divine All Loves Excelling,” Hymn #657).

 

There are countless other opinions out there about Jesus. The point remains that the world is and always will be divided on the issue. We probably won’t get complete agreement this side of eternity.

 

But Jesus’ haunting question remains: “But who are y’all saying that I am?” What do we say? Who are we saying that Jesus is outside the walls of this church? The question here cuts to the heart by asking us about our whole lives, not simply the parts we designate as religious or spiritual.

 

It’s easy to come to church and recite the creeds and nod approvingly at something a preacher says about Jesus. But it’s hard to proclaim with our thoughts, words, and deeds, day in and day out that we believe that Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified Messiah, is the only Son of God.

 

This belief is all-encompassing. It can wreck your life. It can take us from leading sensible, responsible lives according to the world to living like holy fools. Jesus will flip our worlds upside down with the crazy idea that the poor and meek and peacemakers will be blessed will the rich and full will one day meet woe (Matt 5:3-10; Luke 6:20-25). Jesus sets the world ablaze with a love that is self-sacrificial. Jesus makes us into fools who preach that life comes through death on a Cross.

 

It’s challenging and scary to follow this Jesus. It is a cross to bear in and of itself. And that is why Jesus’ question remains powerful to us here and now: "Who are y’all saying that I am?"

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

Davis, D. Mark. "Peter 'Fesses Up." Left Behind and Loving It. Blog. Published 20 August 2017. Accessed 26 August 2017. http://leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com/2014/08/peter-fesses-up.html

 

*** Translation Note: Drawing on Davis' work above, there are two important things I'm trying to highlight by using my own translation of the original Greek of Matthew 16:13 and 16:15: (1) Jesus is addressing the twelve disciples with the plural form of "you", which I render as "y'all"; and (2) Jesus uses the present continuous tense, which implies that he is asking about ongoing conversations the disciples have with people outside of their inner circle, not a one-time pop quiz.

 

 

 

Image Credit: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/29625310026485530/ 

 

 

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