Mark 8:27-33 (CEB)
Jesus predicts his death
Jesus and his disciples went into the villages near Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”
They told him, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others one of the prophets.”
He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: “The Human One[a] must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then, after three days, rise from the dead.” He said this plainly. But Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him. Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, then sternly corrected Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”
I love how Jesus just comes right to the point here. He doesn’t fanny about. “Who do YOU say that I am?”
It’s the kind of direct question about faith that my wing of the church has trained itself never to ask. Maybe for lots of good reasons, chiefly, I suspect, sheer embarassment at the excesses of the past, a distancing from the in-your-face evangelism that feels overpowering and slightly threatening.
In response – and also, perhaps, as a consequence of our own shifting confidence in the way the Christian narrative used to be told – we have fallen into the habit of simply backing off and talking about anything else under the sun EXCEPT the Gospel.
I think I have allowed myself to think that as long as I am a decent and approachable bloke and appear relatively normal – I do drink and sometimes I swear royally – then people will twig the whole Christianity thing by a vague process of osmosis.
A quote wrongly but persistently attributed to St. Francis reinforces this: “Preach the Gospel. If you have to, use words.” Wahayy! No need to say anything at all, Phil! Why risk the embarassment of a potentially awkward silence?
Yet here we have Jesus with a simple, direct, personal challenge – using words! If anyone’s deeds self-evidently preached the gospel it would be Jesus – yet he felt the need for words.
I think it is at least possible that a few people I have got to know and got on well with, people who have shown an interest in the church and what it’s about have left disappointed and maybe a bit hurt.
“I can see clearly that this christianity thing is important in Phil’s life, so why won’t he talk about it with me? Does he think it isn’t FOR me? Am I unworthy of it? He talks endlessly about football or politics or dogs or being a parent – just about anything except this thing he keeps to himself.”
Could it be that I fear rejection so much that I am simply too scared to ask potentially life-changing questions in encounters where people might be waiting for me to do just that?
Ooof – there’s a challenge for me!
“Who do you say that I am?”
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