Sunday, September 13, 2009

Who do people say that I am

Mark 8:27 - 33

This has been quite a week for gossip!
The South African 800 meter athletics champion, Caster Semenya, has had her dignity stripped from her by gossip. But this is what human beings do: we gossip! Today’s Gospel story is all about reputation and gossip.
Mar 8:27 Then Jesus and his disciples went away to the villages near Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, "Tell me, who do people say I am?"

Jesus is in Caesaria Phillipi, a Roman Town built by someone who worried about his image. Caesarea Philippi was a holiday resort on the Jordan River built by Philip the Tetrarch. This was a ruler who lived in the shadow of his father, King Herod the Great. Imagine growing up hearing everyone calling your father “The Great”. And then your father dies and you get to rule part of his kingdom – along with your two brothers. And as you try to settle in and take control you hear “Herod the Great” this, and Herod the Great” that. The last thing you want is that people remember you because of your father.
So how do you establish yourself?
Philip built a city, and named it after the most powerful man on earth: Tiberius Caesar. And then he linked his own name with Caesar and the city is called Caesaria Phillipi. This is a town built by someone who worried about his image. “What are they going to say about me? Well they can say that Caesar and I are in charge”.

I have the sense of Jesus and his disciples joking about Philip the Tetrach and his fragile ego. And then Jesus turns to his disciples and asks"Tell me, who do people say I am?" Here is Jesus asking his disciples: what do you think of me? And they fumble around for an answer:
- Is Jesus like John the Baptist: come to call the religious people back to God..
- Is Jesus like Elijah: come to reform the nation.
- Is Jesus like the prophets – come to speak a word from God.

Peter then gives an answer that probably surprises even himself: “You are the Messiah” This is considered a highlight of the Gospel story: Here at last is recognition. The penny has dropped/ the light bulb has come on. This is an “Aha” moment. “You are the saviour who has been promised”. And the whole of creation breathes a sigh of relief. The Messiah has come.

And it is at this point that everything comes crashing down for Peter. Just when he thought he knew Jesus – he discovered he did not. Because he heard Jesus speaking about suffering and struggle….
Mar 8:31 Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: "The Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law. He will be put to death, but three days later he will rise to life."

And this did not fit his picture of Jesus. So Peter tried to correct Jesus: Because the Messiah that Peter wanted was not the Messiah that Jesus wanted. Jesus speaks of a Messiah who suffers but Peter wanted a Messiah who crushed the opposition.

Which takes us back to the question: Who do people say that I am? Which is the challenge of this story. We form a picture according to our expectations….We want Jesus according to our desires….We make Jesus in our own images. But Jesus refuses to be boxed!

Today’s reading invites us to be open to discover Jesus according to Jesus. So when we discover that Jesus is our ‘anointed one’ we also need to remember that Jesus is also the Messiah of my neighbour.

Jesus is the Messiah of white, blond haired, blue eyed people.
But he is also the Messiah of black, curly haired, African people.
And he is also the Messiah of Chinese people.

Jesus is the Messiah of Men
And he is also the Messiah of Women
And he is also the Messiah of Children

Jesus is the Messiah of couples
And he is the Messiah of single people

Jesus is the Messiah of heterosexual people
And he is the Messiah of Gay people
And he is the Messiah of people who are caught between genders.

I invite us to stop gossiping about each other: and become accepting of one another. And as we learn to welcome each and every person on our planet: we will learn a little bit more about our Saviour.

The only real picture of Jesus is when we see Jesus in other people – because each person reflects a bit of Jesus.

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