Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah." And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels
“Who do people say that I (Jesus) am?” Subversive? Liberal? Progressive? Regressive? Orthodox? Heretical? Blasphemer? Possessed – by a demon? By the Spirit of God? It depends on who answers the question. Jesus’ family think he is out of his mind. The religious officials declare he is a heretic. Possessed by Beelzebul is what the Scribes decide. Herod figures Jesus is John the Baptist returned from the dead to get him back for cutting off his head. The masses are not quite sure what to make of this Jesus; teacher, healer, exorcist, magician, a prophet like Moses or Elijah. It’s hard to tuck Jesus into neat little categories and groups.
Jesus asks Peter, ““Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, “You are the messiah.”” OK then, that clears it up - as long as we know what “messiah” means. Peter thought he did. Messiah is the person for whom the people of God have been waiting for a very long time. Messiah is the one who bursts onto the scene and ends suffering and injustice. But Jesus doesn’t understand “messiah” that way.
Jesus launches into a terribly problematic teaching. Messiah is “… the Son of Man (and) must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes and be killed and after three days rise again.” First problem. Jesus calls himself the Son of Man. That must mean that somehow messiah is associated with or finds identity in humankind. Messiah is not some supernatural force that is going to break in and create a happily ever after life. Second problem. Messiah is supposed to end suffering, not be subjected to it, and certainly not be rejected and killed. What good is a dead messiah? Third problem. “After three days rise again.” What does that mean? And even if he is killed and comes back to life he will just be a dead man walking. How is that going to out my enemies and secure my life?
I’m afraid I am right there with Peter. I don’t want to hear what Jesus is saying. I want my messiah to make my life better, and that would be according to my definition of better. But Jesus makes himself painfully clear. All the things of the world that I seek (end of suffering, security, justice) are about enhancing my situation or status. And I will lose them. End of story. Or is it?
Following Jesus means dying to the self-focused way I (and the culture around me) see things. Because when I decide to ally myself with Jesus and act to spread God’s all inclusive love rather than to secure my share and keep everyone else a safe distance away, I will infuriate the people around me. My family, my friends, the religious and government officials will not like it one bit. And I will be persecuted, even killed. That’s what Jesus tells the crowds, disciples and us. But - and this is a big but - when I make my choices in alliance with God's purpose and in solidarity with God's people, I find my identity in God. The little me with my meager wants to have it my way dies, and I rise again in the Christ.