Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 130; 148, Nehemiah 12:27-31a, 42b-47, Revelation 19:11-16, Matthew 16:13-20
When Jesus asked his disciples who the people thought he was, they answered Elijah, John the Baptist, Jeremiah, and other prophets. He then more pointedly asked them “But who do you say that I am?” Peter quickly answered “the Messiah” and Jesus told him this knowledge came not from flesh and blood, but from God. Then Jesus instructed his disciples to tell no one else.
Who do you think Jesus is?
Like Peter we can answer “the Messiah” because it’s definitely not a secret any more … but what does that mean to us? After the crucifixion and the resurrection, the role of “the Messiah” meant something very different to Peter and the disciples. Christians unite around the idea of Christ as Messiah, yet given the variety in our expression of faith and belief, mostly derived from the same Biblical sources, we don’t all mean the same thing when we say it.
Is there a perfectable understanding of Christ we all strive toward? Plato had a theory of ideal forms. Summarized in a simple example, there exists a metaphysical ideal form of any object, such as a chair, which is the standard by which we recognize other less-than-ideal objects in the physical world as chairs. Is there an ideal form of Christ (which would be, one supposes … Christ himself) which helps us recognize expressions of Christ in this world we presently inhabit?
Chairs can be plush, wooden, yielding, rigid, wheeled, or rocking. They can have various numbers of legs or – in the case of bean bags – no legs at all. Yet in all their variety they hold in common factors which define them as chairs.
If Peter and the disciples who knew Jesus personally underwent a transformation in their understanding of Jesus, let’s not be too quick centuries later to declare one earthly expression the only real thing. This isn’t some wishy-washy excuse to turn Jesus into whatever we’d like him to be. To the contrary, encountering Jesus changes us, never the other way around.
The same Christ can inspire one person to a conservative worldview and another to a progressive worldview. Both probably believe the other to be misguided, but there will be central issues – such as feeding the hungry and caring for the ill – upon which they agree. Why do we find it so much easier to focus on the areas where we disagree, when areas of agreement are where we find Christ?
When it comes to discipleship, we all get some right and some wrong. Moving toward that ideal form of discipleship – that understanding of who Christ is and what he asks of us – is a lifelong endeavor. Let us undertake that journey with humility, love, and mercy. Isn’t that who we say we are?
Comfort: Christ’s love is greater than we imagine.
Challenge: So let’s not limit him to what we can imagine.
Prayer: I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope (Psalm 130:5)
Discussion: What words describe Jesus for you?
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