Proper 16, A
Matthew 16, 13-20
Some questions you answer with your head – or you don’t as the case may be. What is the square root of 81? What year was Midsummer’s Night Dream written? What is he capital of Uzbekistan (Tashkent)? How do you bake bread? You know it, you can figure it out, you can google it, or you can fake it as the case may be. Or you can’t, and you decide how to deal with that. Jesus warms up with this sort of question: Who do people say that I am? A question of fact. Approximately 50% of people polled said John the Baptist, 28% favored Elijah, 14% Jeremiah and the remaining 8% was split among the remaining prophets. Straight forward. Ok. Got one right. I can relax. But Jesus isn’t interested in polls, or popular opinion, or ego puffing, or even in right answers. He merely got the distractions out of the way with His question.
Who do you say that I am? That’s the important question. Peter blurts out an answer. There is no translation of the bible anywhere so far as I know that says he blurts. I don’t even know if there is a Hebrew word for “blurts”. But he blurts. You know that he does because Peter is Peter and Peter blurts. “Command me to come to you on the water” he blurts (except he sinks like the rock he is named for). “Even though I must die with you,” blurts Peter, “I will not desert you,” followed not many hours later by another spontaneous blurting, “I do not know him.”
Who do you say that I am? “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus blesses Simon Peter with one of the most powerfully worded blessings in all the New Testament. He isn’t blessing Peter for knowing the right answer. Not too far down the road we find out Peter didn’t half know what he was talking about. As we will hear next week, Peter rebukes Jesus for doing exactly what Jesus must do to fulfill the very role Peter identified. Jesus blesses Peter, not for being right, but for listening to his heart, to the Word with a capital “W” etched there by God.
Who do you say Jesus is? Within our culture, within our upbringing, we know the “right” answer. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is our Lord and Savior. That is the answer that “they” say, that we ingested with our baby food, that, at least within many of our social structures, is the correct and undeniable answer. There is nothing wrong with the answer. But the right answer is not what Jesus seeks.
Theopan the Recluse said, 120 years ago, “You must descend from your head into your heart. At present your thoughts of God are in your head. And God Himself is, as it were, outside you, and so your prayer and other spiritual exercises remain exterior. Whilst you are still in your head, thoughts will not easily be subdued but will always be whirling about, like snow in winter or clouds of mosquitoes in summer.”
Look into your heart. Who do you say Jesus is?
Ambrose of Milan, a mere 3 centuries after Jesus died on the cross had this to say: “When we speak about wisdom, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak about virtue, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak about justice, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak about peace, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak about truth and life and redemption, we are speaking of Christ.”
The Rev. Scott Colglazier describes this image: “Christ is a word that names the divine energy that was released into the world through the life of Jesus. Just as stars explode and new planets are formed, so in the life of Jesus a certain kind of Christ energy was constellated and released into the world, and this energy is still changing the people. This is nothing less than the energy or presence of God. Compassion exploded into the world through the life of Jesus. Unconditional love and inexhaustible grace was released into the world through the life of Jesus. Creative, transforming and inspiring goodness was released into the world through the life of Jesus”
Most of us in this room profess to be Christian, to follow the Christ, the Messiah. As Teresa of Avila says,
Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ’s compassion to the world,
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.
“Who do you say that I am?” Look into your heart. Blurt out your answer – blurt it out with all your heart, all your life. The lives we live with the hope of Christ in our hearts is what brings the love, the energy, the compassion, the justice, the healing of Christ to another and another and another.
A wise Rabbi asked his students, “How do you know the exact moment a new day has dawned upon the earth?” Said one student, “Rabbi, you can tell when, standing some way away, you can tell a sheep from a dog.” The rabbi agreed that this was a useful discernment to be able to make, but said it did not define the new day. A second student hazarded that the new day dawned when, from down the road, you can tell a fig tree from an olive tree. The rabbi felt this might help determine your direction on the road depending on your appetite, but did not define the new day. The rabbi paused. He looked at his students, looking from one face to the next. Finally he said: “It’s a new day when there is enough light that allows you to see the face of another human being, and looking upon that face, you see your brother or sister. That is the moment when the night ends and the day begins.”
Who do you say that I am?
May we look in our hearts and discover the presence of God.
May we look into the faces of our neighbors and find the face of our brother, the Christ.
May we look to our lives and proclaim with them the New Day coming.