It had been a good day up until then. We were still riding a wave of joy from some of the things we’d seen, some of the things we’d heard him say and then the tone turned serious. He stopped us all in our tracks and he asked, “who do people say that I am?” What a question! He knows very well what people call him. He’s always there, and he obviously notices a lot more than the rest of us do. But, you know, he has a habit of asking questions like that. Don’t get me wrong, I’d follow him to the ends of the earth and I’d gladly lay down my life for him, but to tell you the truth, I find some of his questions a bit annoying. He asks questions where he already knows the answer, and others where he knows we’ll get it wrong.
Anyways, here we are on the way to Caesarea Philippi and he asks us about what others call him. We tell him, “some say you’re John the Baptist, some say Elijah or one of the other prophets.” He seemed to find this upsetting and I can see why. We’d just heard word that John the Baptist had his head removed from his body by Herod, and Elijah was always in danger from someone who he’d upset. This was a pretty tough crowd to be associated with. I wouldn’t want to be called John the Baptist either; I’d much rather be John the never bothered anyone and lived a long peaceful life.
This is a dangerous place to be for someone who wants to stir up trouble. The temple doesn’t have much power to arrest and execute people but official power and what really happens is sometimes a bit different. And then the Romans, the one thing they seem to value most of all is order. Don’t make waves, and keep quiet. I heard some traveling merchants from the Orient talking and they had a good phrase to describe how to act around the Romans, I’m sure you’ve heard the one about the squeaky wheel and grease? Well they say, “the nail that sticks out, gets hammered down.”
Well, we walked on for a bit longer, all being quiet; Jesus was in a bit of a mood since our last conversation and we didn’t want to upset him further. Then he stopped us all again and asked, “well, what about you, who do you say I am.” Peter jumped at the chance to answer this one. Between you and me, I think Peter’s a bit of a teacher’s pet, always trying to get the write answer, always trying to be more helpful than the rest. He pipes up and says, “You’re the Messiah of course!”
Well, that set Jesus off more than anything else. He paced back and forth, muttering to himself for quite a while. I think he was praying to God. Actually, from the colour in his face and the way he was waving his hands around, I think he was having a pretty big argument with God. After a few minutes of this, he noticed that we twelve were standing there with our mouths hanging open with deer in the candle light expressions and that seemed to bring him back to earth. He gave us a slight smile but there was no smile in his voice when he told us, no ordered us, to never tell anyone that he was the messiah.
I’m not sure who would have told anyone else anyways. I’m not sure, but I think Peter was just trying to pay Jesus a compliment when he said that – maybe he really believed it but I’m not so sure. Really, Jesus sure isn’t any kind of Messiah that we’d been told of, I mean, sure maybe he is the messiah, but different from what we expected. The Messiah is supposed to be the one to bring us Jews back to being a world power, with respect, and maybe even a bit of fear from others. He’s supposed to be the one to rebuild the Temple and most of all, get rid of these Romans. Jesus is a great guy, but I don’t think he’s held a sword in his life and I doubt he’s any good as a military leader.
I’m sorry, I keep getting off track from the story. Anyways, after he demands that we don’t tell anyone, he says that he’s going to be put to death by the authorities and that 3 days later he’d come back from the dead. I’m not sure what he meant by the coming back thing but maybe I’ll figure it out one day. But the being killed part – oh, that I understand. I had a friend of a friend, who went around writing messages on walls with a can of rams blood, you know the type, writing things like, “Romans go home” and “Herod eats un-kosher worms.” After a while, he just disappeared.
It’s no wonder that Jesus wanted to keep things quiet, but what about all the miracles and preaching and stuff, that’s sure been drawing a lot of attention. I guess for now he wants to keep it on his own terms.
It all just makes me wonder more about what he asked us. What do we call him? I’m not sure Messiah is quite write but then again what would be better? John the Baptist? No, John was a great guy and all but Jesus is different – and besides that, John was preaching about the one who would come, that was greater than him – and I think he was talking about Jesus.
A prophet? Well, he certainly is a prophet, but not like any that I was ever taught about. Sure Elijah performed miracles and some say he even made people come back from the dead but there’s something about Jesus that I can’t put my finger on. It’s almost like, when I talk to Jesus, I feel like I’m praying, like I’m in some way, talking to God. When I’m near him, I feel like I’m standing next to the embodiment of holiness.
Then there are those who have been calling him king. He is a great leader and very wise but he has no land, or army, or anything else that a king may have. Then again he does talk about the coming kingdom. He says that sometime in the future, everything and everyone will be in a new kingdom that will be ruled with love and justice rather than with power and wealth. Will he be the king of this new kingdom or will it be who he’s been calling Abba, you know, God?
I guess if Peter hadn’t jumped in with his answer first, I might have called him Lord. A lord is a ruler but doesn’t necessarily mean land or armies. A lord is someone who you follow and who tells you what to do. There is that part of it – he certainly tells us what to do and expects us to obey. As a matter of fact, he told Peter that if we want to follow him we’ll have to pick up a cross first. Wow, is that a chilling thought. I know I said that I’d give up my life for him but when he talks about crosses, he’s talking about crucifixion – just about the worst way I can think of to die. Did he mean cross literally or was that another one of his metaphors – he does use those a lot. I’ll have to think about that some more.
Yeah, lord might be a good thing to call him. He’s a great person to follow, and he sets out the rules for lives which will bring about the kingdom that he speaks of. Also, a lord who is alone, isn’t a lord. Lord is a word that talks about a relationship. He obviously wants to have us and every one else in his life, even the gentiles. He wants us to follow, not so that he can have someone to boss around but because he truly loves us and wants us to follow to a new world where all will know the grace of God.
Yes, if he asks again, I’m going to leap in before Peter and give my answer, “Jesus is Lord.” If he were to ask you, what would you say?