Who is Jesus For me ?
“But who do you say I am?” Jesus asks this of all twelve disciples not long after feeding thousands in Galilee and rebuking a challenge from the Pharisees and Sadducees to perform “a sign from heaven” to prove himself. The disciples and Jesus decamped to the other side of the Galilee and forgot to bring bread, which caused the disciples to fret over their sustenance. Jesus rebuked them for not having trust in Him, especially just after watching Jesus feed thousands with just a few loaves and fishes, for the second time in his ministry (Matthew 16:9-10). They, like the Pharisees and Sadducees, are missing the forest for the trees, and they have not yet learned to put their trust in the Lord rather than on material provisions.
At Caesarea Philippi, the question becomes acute for the twelve disciples. Who do you say I am? If Jesus is just a political provocateur or a wise teacher with healing gifts, then He would hardly be remarkable or worth given one’s life to serve. Neither Church, nor Gospel of such a man would endure, nor would the disciples in their mission.
Who do you say that I am? That question applies now to us as well, Christians living in a world vastly changed over two millennia. It was pretty easy at those times when the burden of living our faith authentically in the world to just shrug off the divinity of Jesus.
At their next stop in Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asks them again the quintessential question of faith. Who do you say I am? To the Pharisees and the Sadducees, he was a troublesome teacher, one who threatened their political power. To most of the other Israelites in the region, he was a healer and a leader, at least for as long as it cost them little to follow. They wanted a warrior to expel the Romans and restore the Davidic kingdom on earth, rather than a path to eternal salvation and forgiveness of their own sins.
Who do you say I am? It’s the question that will force us to decide between being disciples, spectators, or antagonists. That’s as true now as it was in Caesarea Philippi almost two thousand years ago, when Jesus asked it of his own disciples. It was a challenge to them to choose now and make the commitment to faith.
And what happens? Simon Peter issues his statement of faith, one that marks the establishment of the Church in time: “You are the Christ, Son of the Living God.” That doesn’t mean that Peter had perfect faith or understanding in that moment — in fact, far from it. Just a few verses later in the same conversation, Peter get rebuked by Jesus for opposing the plan for His sacrifice that will enable salvation; Jesus even calls him “Satan,” just after pledging to give Peter “the keys to the kingdom” for his faith
Nor is this the only such moment of commitment and declaration of faith in the New Testament. Paul once persecuted the Church out of zeal for his heritage and his community, but was struck down by a vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus. What was that vision? In Acts 9:4-6, a bright light appeared and a voice asked, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Who do you say I am? Until that moment, Paul had sided with the Pharisees and Sadducees, zealously so. Paul asked in return, “Who are you, Lord?” In that moment, Paul had been given another opportunity to make that choice, and instead of relying on his own will and understanding, humbled himself before God and opened his heart to faith.
In the end, that question isn’t about the identity of Jesus, but the identity of each and every one of us. When we answer that, we answer for our own identities.
Will we be disciples? Spectators? Antagonists? Who do you say Jesus is — and who do you therefore say you are?
Dr Louis Malieckal CMI