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“Who do people say that I am?”

  • International
  • September 28, 2012
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Who is this man Jesus? It’s not only we who ask this question, his contemporaries did as well. This passage in Luke attempts an answer.

The scene is one of seclusion with his disciples. Jesus is apart in prayer. Before every major decision in life, Luke has Jesus spend time in prayer. Sometimes, it’s the whole night.

On this occasion, Jesus asks his disciples what the crowds think of him. He wants to get a sense of popular expectations. The answers are typical: you’re seen as a prophet, that is, one who is God’s spokesman, like John the Baptist, or Elijah, or even Jeremiah. Similar answers had been given to King Herod.

But Jesus probes further: what about you, my disciples? Who do you say I am? It’s Peter who speaks on behalf of all: You are the anointed one. The Hebrew word is messiah,equivalent to the Greek christos. Peter isn’t affirming or denying the divinity of Jesus. He’s just recognizing the fulfillment of Old Testament hopes in the person of Jesus.

Jesus accepts the title, but quickly enjoins his disciples to silence. There must be no reference to the messiahship at all among the disciples, lest the crowds twist this into a political campaign with nationalist aspirations. His own definition of being a messiah is far different: “…to undergo great sufferings, to be rejected by the elders…to be put to death, and to be raised again on the third day.” No one, not his disciples, and certainly not the crowds, would understand what this meant. No one was ready for a suffering messiah.

Twenty centuries have passed since that time. Are we any more ready for a suffering messiah today?
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