Lectionary Readings – (17th Sunday after Pentecost)
Do you have any idea who I am?
Several years ago, I read a news report of a celebrity who had been pulled over by the police for driving under the influence. The celebrity questioned the police and asked “Do you have any idea who I am?” hoping to get out of the ticket. The fact remained, though, that the celebrity was driving under the influence, so the question of identity really didn’t matter much.
Now, even though I haven’t mentioned the celebrity’s name, you’re probably thinking of someone in particular. And I bet that it isn’t the same person that I am thinking of, because this story repeats itself over and over again, whether it’s a actor, a musician, or even a politician.
The meaning behind a question like “Do you have any idea who I am?” is fairly obvious to most of us: namely that the person asking the question thinks that they are important. <pause> Important enough that they should get some special treatment from the other, more “normal” people. <pause> Important enough that they can in some way manipulate the outcome in their favor.
It’s a case of an over-developed sense of self-importance.
“Who do you think you are?”
In today’s Gospel reading, we hear of Jesus and his disciples walking toward the villages of Caesarea Philippi, and on the way he asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”
Now, this is a straightforward question to pose to his disciples. I mean, Jesus has been making his way around the country, speaking, and performing miracles. In a way, Jesus was a bit of a celebrity, and therefore people were talking about him. And so the disciples responded to him and said that some people though that he was John the Baptist, some that he was Elijah, and others said that he was one of the prophets.
John the Baptist was only recently on the scene until Herod had him beheaded, and some people thought that Jesus was John the Baptist brought back to life – and that that was the source of his miracles. <pause> Elijah was a miracle working prophet who was thought would bring news of the coming Messiah. The prophets were those who always came to call the Israelites to repentance so that God could redeem his people. So, you see comparing Jesus to Elijah or one of the prophets makes perfect sense for those that might know him only through his teaching and miracles.
We’re going to step away from this question of “who do people say that I am” for a moment because there is another question that is lurking behind this question Jesus just asked his disciples. <pause> Not another question that Jesus is asking his disciples, but one that the Jewish leadership – the scribes and the Pharisees were asking Jesus.
Up to this point in the Gospel of Mark, the scribes and pharisees have been following Jesus around as he taught and performed miracles, because, as we see in Chapter 1, the people noticed that when he taught, he “taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”
Again, in Chapter 3, the scribes and pharisees were watching him intently on a Sabbath, to see if he would heal someone. He asked them if it was lawful to do good on the Sabbath, but they remained silent, so he healed the man, and it says, “Immediately the Pharisees went out and conspired against him with the Herodians, how to destroy him.” From that point on, all the interactions between Jesus and the Pharisees were intended to entrap him, to catch him in an act that went against the Jewish teachings and law.
If you were here a few weeks ago, you remember Mtr. Anita’s sermon about traditions, and how the Pharisees questioned Jesus about why his disciples ate food without washing their hands first. And just a few verses before where we pick up the Gospel today, the Pharisees are again questioning Jesus, asking him for a sign to prove that he had any kind of authority to teach and perform the miracles he was performing.
Each of those attempts to test Jesus really had only one question behind all of them.
That question is: “Who do you think you are?”
The scribes and the pharisees held important positions in the Jewish community. And so naturally, they thought that they were important. <pause> That they were important enough that they were to be treated differently than other, more “normal” people. <pause> That they were important enough in some way to manipulate any situation in their favor.
But instead, people are following Jesus around, listening to his words, and following his example. <pause> Everything about how Jesus acted and behaved questioned their importance in the pecking order that was first century Israel. <pause> Of course they were a little angry; angry enough to question Jesus’ authority – because Jesus’ actions dared to question their authority.
They too had an over-developed case of self-importance.
“Who do you say that I am?”
So, now, let’s go back to the Gospel reading for today. After asking his disciples to tell him who other people thought Jesus was, and hearing their response, he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Now, we don’t really know if any of the other disciples answered this question, but we do know that Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
Given the cultural context of the Jewish people at the time – under the Roman thumb – they were expecting a savior, a king who would bring them out from under the rule of the Romans and make their people free again, which is why some of the people – as we heard before – had thought him to be Elijah or one of the prophets. So Peter’s response is perfectly acceptable, and, notably, Jesus doesn’t correct him or say otherwise.
Instead, Jesus starts telling the disciples how the Son of Man will be tortured, will be rejected by the religious leaders of the country, will be killed, but will rise from the dead again after three days.
Not quite the hero who would save the Israelites from the Romans, now is it?
Peter didn’t think so either. <move stand> And it says that he pulled Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. Peter rebuked Jesus for talking like someone who wouldn’t be the strong hero to free the Israelites from the hand of the Romans, someone who wouldn’t be the Messiah that Peter wanted him to be…
In other words, Peter was looking at Jesus and saying, “Who do you think you are?”
Now, here’s at least one take-away from this sermon: Don’t ever ask God “Who do you think you are?” unless you really want the answer to that….
Jesus simply turns from Peter <turn back on stand> and rebukes him. “Get behind me Satan!”
Because Peter was focusing on the things of this world, and not on the things of God. Peter was focusing on his own desires for who Jesus might be and ought to be, and not on God’s greater plan for Jesus, the Jewish people, and for all the world – including us – you & me.
Jesus knew that when he asked his disciples “But who do you say that I am?” they would have to ask some simple questions of themselves:
“Who am I? And who do I want Jesus to be?”
When you start to ask the question of who Christ is to you, you begin to see where your motivations truly lie.
For Peter, that meant a Messiah different from the one that Jesus started talking about. For Peter, it meant a Messiah that would not have to endure what Jesus said the Messiah must endure. And Peter thought that by rebuking Jesus he could somehow manipulate the outcome in his own favor. Peter wanted Jesus to focus on what Peter wanted.
Again, a case of an over-developed sense of self-importance.
Your own question: Who do I want Jesus to be?
In the next few verses, Jesus makes the life of a disciple pretty clear. He says that anyone that wants to become his follower must deny themselves, pick up their cross and follow him.
Those who try to save their own life will lose it.
Those who lose their life for Jesus’ sake, and the sake of the Gospel, will save it.
What does it profit someone to gain the whole world, but lose their own soul?
Or, even more to the point, what will people give up in exchange for their soul?
We, ourselves, can only answer all of these questions when we answer “Who is Jesus to me?”
In the recent Philippianns Bible Study, we talked about Paul’s desire to “share in the suffering of Jesus.” The general idea of that sentiment is what Jesus is expressing here: You cannot share in someone’s suffering if you do not know who they are. The closer you are to someone, the more real their joys and their pains become to you. The closer you are to someone, the more you celebrate with them in their successes, and you cry with them in their struggles. The closer you are with someone, the more you become like them. The closer you are with someone, the more their desires become your desires, and their goals, your goals.
In the case of Jesus, and the goal of spreading the Good News of his death and resurrection, there is simply no space for our own self-importance.
We pray this prayer during each Eucharist:
Your kingdom come, your will be done. On earth, just as it is in heaven
When God makes his will known to us in our own lives, will we do as Peter did and pull Jesus aside to rebuke him in our own way?
Or will we deny ourselves the pleasure of our own self-importance, pick up our cross and lose ourselves for the sake of Christ and the Gospel?
Who is Jesus to you?
Your answer to that can save your life.[This was preached at Christ the King Episcopal Church on September 16, 2018. Listen here.]
Mike is a jack of all trades, master of none. He’s a data analyst, programmer, and loves to cook. If he doesn’t have his face buried in a book or is staring blankly at a computer screen, you can find him on a motorcycle, enjoying the ride.
Mike holds a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary.