"Who Do You Say That I Am?": The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

"Who Do You Say That I Am?": The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

Sep 16, 2018

Passage:Mark 8:27-38

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Jill Walters

Series: Pentecost

Category: Discipleship, Christology

Keywords: disciples, identity, jesus, jesús, messiah


The Gospel of Mark starts to focus on the key question of "who" is this Jesus. Peter correctly identifies him as the Messiah, but doesn't understand what that really means. Jesus is speaks not only to the mind, but to the heart, body, and soul as he explains who he really is...who the Messiah is...who his followers are. Jesus himself and his followers are people who love without reservation...who see others as valuable members of God’s beloved creation...who go into the world to bring peace even when it means we have to give something up.


May the Words of my mouth and the meditations of each heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.

When you think of Jesus, what do you think of?  How does he look?  How does he sound?  What would he say if he walked in these doors right now?

We all have some ideas about Jesus.  For many of us, those ideas have changed over time.  If we knew about Jesus when we were little, we might’ve had visions of a man who gently holds children and sheep.  We might’ve seen Jesus as someone who would answer our prayers and keep us safe.  “Now I lay me down to sleep....”

And as we’ve grown up, our ideas about Jesus have probably changed.  We may see Jesus as a revolutionary, fighting against the evil Roman Empire.  We might see Jesus as a kind of benevolent teacher.  We might see Jesus as a historical figure who worked to change the course of Judaism.  We might see Jesus as a judge who will point out our wrongdoings and report them to God.

Now, we have to admit, these are pretty one-dimensional images of Jesus.  My guess is that our beliefs about Jesus are much more complicated and change as our lives and experiences change.

And today’s Gospel reading actually shows us that even the disciples had a limited understanding of Jesus.  This is a pivotal moment in the Gospel of Mark.

Mark tells us that Jesus has been traveling with his disciples and sometimes thousands of others around the countryside.  He’s been healing, performing miracles, and teaching.  His followers have witnessed all these great acts. 

The Gospel of Mark focuses the first part on showing us what Jesus does.  So, now we turn to wonder not only about “what” Jesus does and “how” he does it, but who is he.

There are whisperings, speculation, debates about who this man is.  Mark has already given us hints that the people are trying to figure out who Jesus is.

At this critical moment in the gospel, Jesus comes right out and asks Peter “who do people say that I am?”

If you think about it, the people’s guesses make sense.  This is Elijah returned from heaven...or it’s John the Baptist...or the prophets.  Who else could have such power and perform such miracles?  It’s got to be one of the great ones of our history. 

At this point, Messiah doesn’t really fit with what they’re seeing of Jesus, so it doesn’t even enter the people’s conversation.

Jesus listens.  Then he turns to his disciples.  He asks them...”who do you say that I am?”  This is the inner circle.  These are the ones who have not only witnessed his miracles and healings, but they’ve been with him, day in and day out. 

They’re there for all the little, everyday things...the conversations, the daily tasks, the travel.  These are his closest friends, his confidants.  Surely they know who he is.

Then Peter, in his “eager Peter” style, jumps in to answer.  He doesn’t wait for discussion with the others or to see what the others think.  He’s got the answer. He knows.  “You are the Messiah” he responds.

Maybe, just maybe they do get it.  Maybe all the time Jesus has spent with them is finally paying off. 

So, Jesus begins to teach them.  And he starts to talk about suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection.  What?! 

Peter is horrified!  Peter’s images and ideas of who Jesus is...who the Messiah is...are crumbling all around him.

The Messiah is a great leader...someone who will gather up all this great power they’ve seen in Jesus and bring the Roman Empire to its knees.  The Messiah will lift up the Jews and they’ll become the rulers.  They’ll be in power.

They’ll no longer be persecuted and harassed.  They’ll no longer be subservient to Rome.  The Messiah will liberate them.  They’ll will finally be free after generations of oppression.

Peter pulls Jesus aside and scolds him.  How can he say these things?  And out in public where everyone can hear?  That’s not what’s going to happen to the Messiah! 

Then Jesus responds in kind and tells Peter to “Get behind me, Satan!”  He’s not actually calling Peter “Satan.”  He’s trying to show Peter and the other disciples the huge mistakes they’re making in the way they’re thinking about the Messiah. 

Jesus is pointing out that it’s not about “winning” over Rome.  A military, political victory isn’t going to change the world.  The disciples are looking at things only from their perspective, from their small, little place in the world.

But Jesus sees the world from a “divine” perspective.  He’s sees the whole of the world...all the people.  He sees them as the precious children of God that they all are...the carefully and lovingly created people of God. 

He sees their hurting, their pain, their regret, their suffering.  They’re not Romans or Jews or any other group of people to be conquered.  They’re all the beloved children of God.

Jesus is here to free everyone.

And as if Jesus hasn’t said enough already to completely destroy the way the disciples view the world, Jesus begins to explain to them “who” he really is...”who” the Messiah is...”who” true disciples are.  And it’s not pretty.  In fact, it’s actually pretty scary.

We’ve gotten to the point today where we can minimize how terrible the crucifixion really is.  But the people who lived in Jesus time lived crucifixion as a reality. 

They knew what awaited the people carrying their crosses through the streets.  They knew the horror of seeing someone nailed to a cross in excruciating pain and complete humiliation.

Jesus didn’t just give the disciples an image of following him that was a little scary.  This image is almost inconceivable to them.  The cross was reserved for criminals, not people who are trying to do what’s right, people who are trying to follow the Torah and bring peace to the world. 

Jesus uses this image to explain that following him is more than being on a “winning team.”  It’s about being willing to sacrifice, to put others ahead of ourselves, to persevere in faith even when things seem unbearable.

So, let’s return to Jesus’ question of his followers.  “Who do you say that I am?”  This wasn’t just a question for the disciples of Jesus’ time.  This is a question that continues for us today.  “Who do you say that Jesus is?” 

This isn’t just an intellectual debate.  This is about our hearts and souls.  It’s about our bodies.  Jesus is speaking to the disciples and us in ways that will move us, not in ways that will necessarily persuade our minds. 

Of course, we, as Episcopalians pride ourselves in “not having to leave our minds at the door” when we come to worship.  And Jesus was certainly an intellectual and highly skilled debater. 

But speaking to our minds alone isn’t enough to change the world.  We have to engage our hearts and bodies and souls to “go” into the reach out to those who are stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. 

This is who Jesus is.  This is who the followers of Jesus are.  This is who  we are...who we strive to be. People who love without reservation...who see others as valuable members of God’s beloved creation...who go into the world to bring peace even when it means we have to give something up. 

Of course, we often fall short of being like Jesus.  But it’s at the core of who we are even when we lose sight of that...even when we behave in ways that aren’t so Christ-like...even when life is pounding on us.  God created us to be loved and to love.  And if we can do that, we can show everyone who Jesus is and what he can do for the world.  Amen.