In the list of Top 5 Moments in the ministry of Jesus, the average disciple would probably list, in some order:
- The Baptism of Jesus
- The Temptation
- The Transfiguration
- The Crucifixion
- The Resurrection
Number six would probably have some significant variation. Some might include the Ascension. Others would think of Jesus turning the tables in the Temple, feeding the 5,000, or walking on water, but I would like to submit that event #5a in the ministry of Jesus should be Caesarea Philippi, which we will hear this Sunday.
Before the Transfiguration solidified for Peter, James, and John just how special Jesus really is, this moment in a Roman resort town built to honor Caesar, commonly called the son of god, is the first real opportunity that Jesus and his disciples had to unpack everything they had seen and heard. Miraculous healings, profound teachings, and all kinds of run-ins with the religious powers-that-be had already happened. Surely, the disciples were constantly talking amongst themselves, wondering just how powerful this man was to whom they had hitched their wagons. Could he be Elijah? Was it somehow John the Baptist, back from the dead and disguised like former Mets manager, Bobby Valentine? Or was this Jesus character another in the long line of prophets God had sent to proclaim a word of challenge and hope to the people of Israel?
It is during this intentional time away, the world’s first vestry retreat, that Jesus invites his disciples to dig deep into that conversation. “Who does the world think that I am?” he asks them first, to get the ball rolling. And then, he dives in by asking this group of faithful souls who have dropped everything to follow him, “But who do you say that I am?” Who do you think you are following? What does your experience of me suggest is happening here? Are you able, unlike my own people in Nazareth who tried to stone me, that God’s hand is at work here?
I’m always caught short by this encounter between Jesus and his disciples because I wonder what my answer might have been. More accurately, I wonder what my answer to this question is. Yes, I believe in my heart and confess with my lips that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, but do I live that reality every day? Do I choose to follow Jesus as Lord in each moment? No, of course I don’t. No one does. In those moments when I’m following my own path, when I focused on my own selfish goals – when I’m feeling jealous or frustrated or bored or burned out – in those moments, who do I say Jesus is? This difficult question that Jesus poses to his disciples is a helpful one for us all to remember on our daily journey of faith. In this moment, as I do this thing, make this decision, walk this path, who am I saying Jesus is in my life?