Wednesday Worship Piece: Thoughts on Matthew 16:13-19

'Buddy + red tissue portrait' photo (c) 2008, Tricia - license:
Who do people say that I am?, Jesus wants to know.

“Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and still others one of the prophets.” And the disciples here are obviously just talking about the people who more or less liked Jesus. Nobody wants to say, “Well, Lord, people are calling you a drunkard, a blasphemer, a prostitute-lover, even Satan.”

Who do people say that I am?

“John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets.”

And that tells Jesus a lot about the people who are greeting him in cities, gathering to hear him on the hillsides, reaching out to touch him as he passes by. These people who think he is John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets–they are desperate people . . . with a bit of hope.

People who hope that the fickle promise of a King can’t destroy their opportunity for repentance and forgiveness. People who hope that powerful deeds will once again be done in the name of the God of Israel. People who hope that God will speak to them somehow–through someone.

These people who say John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets–they are people who know their pop culture, people who know their history and their scriptures, people with a bit of hope.

Who do people say that Jesus is?

It’s an interesting question today as well.

Looking online you can find the classic pictures of Jesus as glowing king, Jesus as good shepherd, Jesus knocking on the door (c’mon, let me in before it rains). I found an image labeled “pissed off Jesus” and a “hipster Jesus” with goatee and sunglasses. And we can’t leave out “Buddy Christ” from the movie Dogma–the version of Jesus created to replace the depressing crucifix and renew the image of the Catholic church: Jesus winking, smiling, and giving the thumbs up!

Who do people say that Jesus is?

Some people complain about the “feminization” of Jesus. They say men aren’t going to church because Jesus is presented as a wussy girly man–so artists like Stephen Sawyer are painting images of Jesus with bulging biceps and tattoos.

Some people think the Jesus of the cross is messy, is ugly, is bad PR. It’s not a pleasant image for “seekers.” So no crosses in the church. And not much talk about the cross of Christ–or the violence and oppression suffered by anyone, for that matter. Jesus is the cool Son of God who wants you to reach your physical and financial potential.

Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”

It’s a good question. A fascinating sociological study, really. Quite revealing about the politics and theology of the masses. “Some say John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the prophets.”

“Fine,” says Jesus. “Who do you say I am?”

Well, that’s a different question altogether, isn’t it?

[This post is excerpted from a sermon on a parallel text–Mark 8:27-33. Also see a related Call to Worship.]

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