Who do you say that I am?

Today’s Weekly Word is coming to you on January 18, which is the day in the Church year that we commemorate what is known as the “Confession of Saint Peter the Apostle.” The Gospel appointed for today is from Matthew Chapter 16:

When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 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. 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. 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.”

Matthew 16:13-19

It’s certainly appropriate to have the Confession of Peter commemorated during the Season of Epiphany.  The dictionary defines an epiphany as a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something. Peter is commended for this flash of understanding regarding Jesus’ identity while everyone around him seems to be hemming and hawing in response to the question posed by the Lord. 

Who is Jesus? In our so-called “post-Christian” culture Jesus is held up as a great moral teacher and social activist. This is certainly true, I’m sure. As your Deacon, I wholeheartedly support the notion that Jesus’ teachings call us to work for justice, peace, and equality in our community.  But Jesus’ as a moral sage and social activist highlights only a part of the Lord’s identity. One of my favorite quotes about this subject comes from C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. Lewis writes: 

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. … Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.”

Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis

Our Biblical texts this Season focus on who this Jesus is and they build on one another ultimately leading, according to the authors of our four Gospels, to the inescapable conclusion that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah whose coming was foretold by the Old Testament prophets. The Bible describes Christ not just as Rabbi and Teacher but also as the Messiah, the Redeemer, the Anointed One (Christ), the Great Physician, the King of Kings, the Savior, the Son of God. Jesus confronts each of us on a personal level with the question “Who do you say that I am?” How we answer that question says something profound about each of us. It speaks volumes about how we understand Christianity, God, and our faith.

The question posed by Jesus must be answered by each one of us in the context of our own lives. Epiphany calls us to follow Jesus and come to an understanding of who he is with our own senses, to understand his love for us with our own hearts, and grasp the remarkable truth with our own minds that God himself is truly and perfectly revealed to us in this man, Jesus of Nazareth.

Who do you say that I am? 

-Deacon Vern Cahoon