Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ They answered, ‘John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘The Messiah of God.’
He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone,2saying, ‘The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.’
In yesterday’s reading we heard of Herod’s perplexity and his desire to see Jesus for himself. We have no evidence that Herod’s curiosity was ever satisfied but, today, we do hear of those who were less confused about Jesus. Today, Jesus asks his disciples a direct question: … who do you say that I am? Then, in response to this direct question, Peter responds: The Messiah of God.
So often this passage is seen as a moment when the great secret is revealed. The moment when the magician produces the rabbit from the hat or the great marketing campaign tells us the next ‘must have’ product. But, that is not really what is going on here. Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah, but that word ‘Messiah’ is tricky. For orthodox Jews of the time, the long-awaited Messiah would be a King. Not a Divine King, but rather a King who would lead them into the great battle that would see the end of the Roman occupation. The promised Messiah would be the final descendant in the line of David, the King of old who was God’s chosen one. Such a King would not be one who: must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed. That is to say nothing of the nonsense about being raised from the dead on the third day.
The disciples knew Jesus to be the Messiah. He was of the correct lineage and he was born in the right town. His words and actions proved that he could fulfil the Messianic prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures. But … Jesus would never be the Messiah they were expecting. The reality of Jesus would far exceed such mundane ambitions. We live in a post-resurrection world. We know Jesus as both fully-human and fully-divine. We know what sort of Messiah he is. And yet, so many of us hesitate when we are asked: Who do you say Jesus is?
Let us pray that we might never be ashamed of our faith in Jesus. Let us pray that we might never hesitate in proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah. Let us pray that we might stand strong in our faith so that, in our time, we may stand before him and join Peter in saying: You are the Messiah of God.