Jesus and the twelve had made the 25 mile trek off the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and stopped to rest outside the district of Caesarea. They sat along the fallen rocks on the side of the dust-filled road, their cloaks musty with the sweat of travel.
Amidst their discussion and reminiscing of the miraculous discovery of the bushelfuls filled with bread to feed the crowds in previous towns, hunger had crept in. Lucky for them, the Sons of Zebedee had purchased an ample supply of figs for the journey.
Sitting in a circle under the nearly setting sun, they ate and laughed together.
Jesus, always one to turn the discussion toward something significant, asked His disciples ::
‘Who do people say I am?‘
A myriad of responses flowed from their lips ::
‘Some say John the Baptist, come back from the dead.’
‘Others claim you’re Elijah, reincarnated.’
‘Still others believe you’re Jeremiah the Weeping Prophet – or perhaps one of the other prophets, come back from the grave!‘
They sat in silence, considering the implications.
So many people had followed Jesus over these past three years. Thousands flocked to Him wherever He went, and sat under His teachings. Some came to question, others came seeking to find answers to questions. Others, looking for a miracle. Still others seemed to come just to see what would happen.
Would Jesus set them straight?
‘But…who do you say that I am?‘
Peter leaned forward, mouth full of figs, and blurted out his suspicions ::
‘You are the Anointed One! You’re the son of the living God, YHVH.‘
The others leaned in as well, anticipating their Rabbi to affirm Peter’s proclamation.
‘Don’t tell anyone.‘
<Yes, it’s true :: I skipped over the affirmation.>
Jesus does indeed affirm that He’s the Messiah in this passage, claims He’ll build His church on the rock of Peter’s declaration and states that even death will not overpower it.
He then gives the disciples the ability to ‘bind’ and ‘loose’ with the keys of heaven, a tremendous responsibility the modern church has yet to come to terms with.
And then He warns them not to tell anyone He’s the Messiah.
Really. You can read it for yourself.
‘Don’t tell anyone.‘
Is this odd to anyone else? In our western 21st century Evangelical circles, it seems we are defined by this proclamation, and we don’t do so secretly.
We make this declaration a distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them.’
And we do so not merely regarding Christ’s claims of divinity – we pontificate about our opinion on a myriad of other issues as well – continually driving a wedge between those who believe, and those who don’t.
We are a culture committed to conversion. Addicted to answers.
Our addiction to an answer culture dictates declarations of ‘Truth’ so individuals know what we believe – and we quickly become defined not by what we are for, but what we are against. We tragically live not as who we are, but become obsessed with correcting who we are not for fear of being misunderstood.
Jesus didn’t seem to care.
It’s not that he was unaware of who He was – nor did He shame Peter for his Spirit-guided insight into declaring his affirmation of Christ’s claims of divinity.
Yet it would seem it mattered less to Jesus what people believed about Him than it did that they follow Him and experience His way of life.
Jesus seemed quite comfortable with people following Him, some for long periods of time, while simultaneously being uncertain as to His divine nature. Jesus didn’t correct them or chastise them for not ‘getting it‘ – in fact, He told the disciples not to tell anyone once they did!
Spending time with the marginalized || the blind beggars and crippled people, lepers and tax collectors and prostitutes and drunkards and the other ‘sinners’ of His day || no doubt Jesus heard proclamations of who He was that missed the mark.
Yet correcting those misconceptions was not as important to Him as doing life in proximity to and relationship with those who otherwise would not experience His abundant way of life.
In contrast, I often find our churches guilty of proclaiming preferred doctrinal positions while simultaneously lacking any compassionate or pastoral response to the very people we’re pushing to the outside.
Any expressed doctrinal or theological position apart from a compassionate and pastoral response castrates conversation.
Jesus seemed much more committed to the process – the conversation – the journey – the way – than we are.
Our obsession with cognitive conversion and admitted answers about Jesus renders our beliefs in Him obsolete if they are not couched in external actions of loving one another in his example, standing in solidarity with the Other… even when they’re ‘wrong.’
How does this change how we live out ‘following’ Jesus?
Michael Kimpan is the author of the WayWard follower blog, a site designed to inspire thoughtful conversation and movement among followers of Jesus Christ. Michael works with The Marin Foundation in Chicago, a non-profit organization which works to build bridges between the LGBT community and the Church.