January 6, 2015
Dear brothers and sisters,
The good new today comes from Mark 8:27-30.
Now Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They said in reply, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said to him in reply, “You are the Messiah.” Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.
I wonder what that meant to Peter when he replied, “You are the Messiah.” Just prior to this the last words Jesus spoke to his disciples were, “Do you still not understand?” I wonder what happened between that scene and this one. It seems that just as with the blind man whom Jesus healed in stages the disciples would arrive at an understanding of Jesus’ identity in stages. They obviously first came to know him as a teacher, as rabbi. Then they witnessed his hearings and miracles and certainly viewed him as God’s anointed one, a prophet perhaps. Now they are on a journey again. Along the way of their journey — physical and spiritual — he probed them to see if their understanding has increased? What was encapsulated in that title Messiah?
Jewish writers of the time “used it to describe Israel’s future leader in the period before the eschaton [meaning the end time] and during it; he would fulfill Israel’s hopes based on God’s promises,” according to the New Jerome Biblical Commentary. The Greek word for Messiah is Christ which is used by many translations including the Douay-Rheims Version, the very first English translation of the Latin Vulgate. However, surely Peter did not mean Messiah or Christ in the way we use the title for Jesus. Jesus would predict his death and resurrection three times in the chapters to come; so as yet, the disciples had no understanding of the meaning we attach to Christ, the Son of God.
So, they certainly could not have grasped Jesus’ divinity as this point, but they had been led to believe that he was God’s anointed one — whatever that meant, a ruler in some sense, a savior of the Israelites from foreign overseers. As Barclay writes, “[T]he Messianic ideas which were in the minds of men when Jesus came…were violent, nationalistic, destructive, vengeful….Think of Jesus set against a background like that. No wonder he had to re-educate his disciples in the meaning of Messiahship.”
I know that my understanding of Jesus is unfolding. I don’t think I see clearly yet as the blind man did after Jesus laid hands on him again. I wonder how I think blindly about Jesus as Christ, as the Messiah. I, too, have thought of him as someone whose time is in the future; he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. I’m slowly realizing that Jesus is here now, walking with me and talking with me. The last thing he wants me to do is judge the living or the dead. He wants me to accept people as they are, as embodiments of God’s spirit as he was. I have been saying to myself over and over recently, “Love and accept him as he is and not as I want him to be.” That’s a really tall order for me.
Who do I say Jesus is? He is the model of God’s loving acceptance, His anointed one, His beloved Son in whom He is well pleased. That’s where I am in my deepening understanding of him.