Now 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.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Matthew 16: 13-20
Michelangelo’s masterpiece La Pietà, housed in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City, portrays a young Mary holding Jesus’ broken body on her lap after the crucifixion. A statue rendered in highly polished, smooth, whitest-of-white marble, glistening in the air.
The Christa. The image familiar – the human body nailed to the cross, arms out to the sides, head turned to one side, feet crossed at the bottom. But in the Christa, Jesus is in the feminine form and blue and pink splotches cover the body and the cross.
And the painting that hung above my bed while I was growing up. Jesus with a small group of children, all looking up at him. Soft colors — blues, greens, yellow, coral. Jesus holding a baby in one arm and reaching out to touch the head of one little girl with his other hand. Above and below: “Suffer little children to come unto me.”
“Who do you say that I am?”
In asking this question, Jesus reveals his determination to make sure that the people, including his disciples, understand who he really is. First, he asks them: “Who do the people say that I am?” And they tell him: Elijah, John the Baptist, Jeremiah, one of the prophets. And then he asks them: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answers that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of the living God. Jesus is delighted, blesses Peter. Jesus knows that Peter could only have come to know this through God.
“Who do you say that I am?”
Jesus asks us the same question: Who do we say that Jesus is?
The Son of God;
The only begotten son;
The lamb of God;
God’s only and eternal son.
We have the language of our faith, our scriptures, our liturgy that infuses meaning into who Jesus is for ourselves and the world. But who do we say that he is? You and I? We all have different answers to that question and possibly different answers on different days and different times.
For me, Jesus is:
The Pietà: a young man born of a young woman, a young man whom the world tried to destroy.
The Christa: In Christ there is no east nor west, no slave or free, no Jew or Gentile, no male or female.
To me, Jesus is all of this. And more.
When I face that question, I go back to my childhood painting that is still with me, hanging in the house where I now live. Jesus, with the children crowding around him. I think of Jesus as my friend, as a constant presence throughout my life, my helper, guide, comforter, restorer, forgiver. And, as we say in the beginning anthem of the burial rite, I know that my redeemer lives.
I know that my redeemer lives because I can feel the risen Christ within me, bringing me joy, peace, renewed energy, sustenance, when I’m grieving, anxious, troubled. Again, it’s all of us of whom Jesus asks the question: “Who do you think I am?”
For Christians, it’s a familiar question to be considered again and again as we continue along on our spiritual journeys. But just as there is no east or west, no Jew or Gentile in Jesus, it enhances our understanding of who Jesus is to us by hearing what people of other faiths have to say about this man who came into the world and changed it forever. The crucified one on his mother’s lap; the one who encompasses male and female; the one sheltering the children from all harm. And more.
Who do we say that Jesus is?
St. David’s Episcopal Church
August 23, 2015
“Michelangelo’s Pieta 5450 cropncleaned edit” by Stanislav Traykov | Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Commons