Scripture for this Sunday: Proverbs 1:20-33; Wisdom of Solomon 7:26-8:1 (Canticle); James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38
In 1966, John Lennon caused a lot of trouble with an out-of-context remark that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. If he had waited 20-30 years, and used words like “postmodernism,” or “rampant secularism and the decline of the church,” it might have passed unnoticed. But timing is everything.
How popular is Jesus today? Christianity is a major religion, and a potentially powerful force in the world – yet if we look at how people live, there is a gap between the teaching of Jesus and the practice of faith, even as lived by those who profess to follow the Christian life.
The question that Jesus posed to his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” is one that ought to challenge all Christian living, and has certainly been the subject of considerable debate through the centuries. The answer has to include an acknowledgement of the humanity of Jesus – which in turn has to place a value upon our own humanity.
We are not so skilled at valuation – we have become, to quote Oscar Wilde, people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Everything is about cost: health care, employment, housing, transportation, migration, national and international aid, and so on – it’s all about money.
Yet human beings, wonderfully created in the image of God, deserve to be highly valued – all of us.
Who do we say that Jesus is? He is one who comes to us as the embodiment of divine creator-parent, but also as companion, friend and brother. Although not a politician, Jesus teaches politics: the manner in which we organise ourselves into communities; although not an economist, Jesus teaches economics, the organisation of the household of God.
Today, a lot more than the Beatles is more popular than Jesus. Our culture is busy ‘finding itself’ spiritually. We are like Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor: we think we know better. “Why do you, Jesus, come to disturb us? We have our dogmas about you. We know much better than you. You were not so clear. We have made it much better than you said it.”
But knowledge is not wisdom, as Peter discovered, stumbling straight from inspired insight into narrow thinking and being rebuked sharply for it. Divinely inspired knowledge (“You are the Christ”) needed to be matched with understanding (what is ‘Christ’?) for wisdom to emerge.
Whether Jesus is popular or not, he needs to be the one who guides us. Jesus comes before each of us and asks: “Who do you say that I am?” Answering that question is worthy of being a life’s work, because in answering it, we define not just who Jesus is, but who we are.
“Who do you say that I am?”