Actually, it is a question that puzzled me for a very long time. Why did Jesus, in Mark’s gospel, tell the crowds not to tell anyone about him? Why did he double down and tell his inner circle of disciples not to talk about him? Why did he even triple down with Peter, his Rock, who tried to warn him about talking about suffering? (Mk 8:27-35)
What’s going on here? What sense can we make of Jesus’ questions and his reaction to the responses he heard? Who do you say that I am? The Jesus question is THE question. It is also our question.
Let’s look more closely. In response, the disciples tell him what was in the air. Jesus is someone like John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the great prophets. But this was probably understood in a popular sense. Jesus is someone who will save them from oppression. Jesus was having none of this. Peter sort of gets it right. He ups the ante and names Jesus as the Messiah. He thought he was on the right track. Still, Jesus warns them not to tell anyone. Why?
I suggest that Jesus was concerned about half-truths or what we might today call “fake news”. What was this fake news? It was fake news since they only half understood who he was. They saw him as a leader, a popular, powerful leader made in the image and likeness of the powerful leaders of the world. They were what we today sometimes call “prosperity people”. They wanted a leader to make everything right and smooth for them.
I think Jesus is worried about them spreading this limited understanding. So Jesus tells them not to tell anyone… until they learn and understand what kind of Messiah he will reveal himself to be. So “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. He spoke this openly.”
Then Peter, thinking himself the adult in the room, took him aside and began to warn Jesus that he was making a mistake. In Mark’s characteristically blunt style he writes, “At this Jesus turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
Powerful and shocking words! It must have been so frustrating to Jesus that they did not understand him. He kept on trying to explain “I have come not to be served but to serve.… I am a king… but a servant king. He tried to say it in so many ways.
His clearest instruction about who he is comes the night before he died. In effect, he said I came to show you the kind of kingdom God has a mind. It is a kingdom where people wash one another’s feet. It is a kingdom where people serve one another… because they care for one another.
The day he died – he showed he really meant what he said the night before. There was no limit to his commitment to teaching them about a kingdom different from any they had imagined. He was willing to suffer excruciatingly and die to show us that God’s love has no limits.
The days after he rose – he promised them his spirit. They too would learn to love one another as he has loved each of them. The Act of the Apostles records their growing understanding of Jesus’ words and actions.
Today, we are still unpacking those momentous days. We need to be instructed as John instructed us in his commentary on the Last Supper. We get the words. We know This is My Body… DO this in memory of me”.
These words are not just directed to a priest. We need to understand the actions the words are really calling for each follower to do something.. Listen to Jesus pleading “Do you understand what I have done for you?” Go, do, this… go, wash one another’s feet. Let the world know how much you love one another as I have loved you.
Today, Jesus still asks the question of you and me. Who do we say Jesus is?Among the popular answers today.
- one of the great founders of a world religion;
- a good man who cared for the poor and outsider;
- a wise teacher like Moses and Gandhi.
- a radical who wanted to overthrow the oppressive forces over his people.
- a modern probably would go to Google. There one reads that Jesus was, “a first-century preacher and religious leader. He is the central figure of Christianity.”
No matter. The question is still directed to each and every one of us in most personal way.
Who do I say Jesus is? Who is Jesus for you?
- Someone who makes everything right according to our wishes?
- Someone who teaches us to love as Jesus loves, washing one another’s feet no matter what the cost?
- Which answer do I live?