“Who is Jesus?” What is your answer to this question? Some of us may answer it by referring to the Bible. Yes, there is no better reference than the Bible where we can find various descriptions of Jesus: “The Alpha and the Omega,” “the Bread of life,” “the author of life,” “the Word of God,” “Immanuel,” “the Light of the world,” “the Lamb of God,” “the chief cornerstone,” “the Prince of peace,” and so on. You know what, there are more than a hundred titles of Jesus in the Bible. And certainly, all of them are legitimate biblical answers.
“Who is Jesus?” What is your answer to this question? Some of us may answer it with the creeds, the formal statements of Christian beliefs. We may read the lengthy Nicene Creed or recite a part of the Apostle’s Creed. “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to hell. The third day he rose again from the dead…” Although the creeds were written a long time ago, they still give us authoritative answers confirmed by the Christian tradition.
“Who is Jesus?” What is your answer to this question? Some of us may answer it with profound theological knowledge. “Jesus is the mediator of God’s grace.” “Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise.” “Jesus is the liberator of the oppressed.” “Jesus is the special revelation of God.” Not all of us may not be familiar with these scholarly answers, but they are still reasonable answers as theologians have argued them for centuries.
“Who is Jesus?” To this particular question, there are already many good answers available. Indeed, from the Bible, from the Christian tradition, and from theologies, we can find legitimate, authoritative, and reasonable answers. And based on them, we can surely tell something about who Jesus is. And if you are willing to do more research, you will be able to get the reliable Christian resources anytime by online, from some books or some lectures. However, the question is… with all the research and all the information about Jesus, can you say that you truly understand who Jesus is? Can we confidently say that we don’t just know about Jesus but we also know Jesus?
In today’s Gospel story, Jesus asks the disciples the same question: (4) “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And the disciples answer, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Matthew 16:14). The disciples seem ready to answer this question, because on their way, they have heard others identifying Jesus with some historical figures. Some called Jesus John the Baptist because of his charisma and his subversive words that criticize the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. Others often associated Jesus with some legendary prophets like Elijah and Jeremiah, because they witnessed Jesus perform miracles with his power from God. The disciples who witnessed all such things in a closest distance also have some similar ideas about who Jesus is. And they themselves try to make some sense out of it.
But then, Jesus twists the question, “But who do you say that I am?” (16:15) “Who am I to you?” This question could be a bit more uncomfortable because Jesus singles the disciples out to identify Jesus personally, and Jesus calls them out to focus on their own relationship with Jesus. “Don’t care about what others say, but who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks. “It doesn’t matter how much you know about me, the only thing that matters in your relationship with me is who I am to you—not to others.” Here, Peter courageously answers, “You are the Messiah (the Christ), the Son of the living God” (16:16). This must be the best Peter could come up with. And that’s okay. Jesus knows that the answer is true and it comes from Peter’s heart.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, “Who is Jesus to you?” We may be able to know about who Jesus is from others’ perspectives. From the sources they provide, we can get legitimate, authoritative, and reasonable answers. But from your own living experience, from your own personal faith stories, from your own hearts, who do you say that Jesus is? Perhaps, this is one of the most resonant questions in the whole of Bible. And perhaps, this is one of the hardest questions that we should answer through our lifetime journey with Jesus.
Reflecting on the question, I thought of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. I have no idea about who Jesus exactly was to him. But If I may venture to say, to him, Jesus might be the Christ, the Son of the living God who revealed God’s love that overcomes any unjust human barriers, who came to us to suffer with us and free us from all the shackles of sin and hatred. Reflecting on the question, I also thought of theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a theologian and church leader who resisted against Nazi dictatorship, and he was executed. I have no idea about who Jesus exactly was to him. But If I may venture to say, to him, Jesus might be the Christ, the Son of the living God, who was incarnated and took his cross as a vulnerable human being and who calls us to take our own cross and learn his humility and costly grace. I do not know whether they have clear answers, but what I can surely tell is… they tried so hard to answer Jesus’ question as they earnestly followed Jesus in their lives. And they lived their lives up to their answers.
Who is Jesus to you? Now we understand that the way we answer it may define our relationship with Jesus. And the way we answer it may change our lives, our attitude toward others, our perspectives to see the people around us, our mode of existence in the world, and everything. Today, Jesus calls us to ask the question and answer it again and again through our life. From today, let us try to come up with the most honest and authentic answers, and live our lives up to those answers. The answers may change from time to time. Sometimes, we may be unable to have an answer. Even if we have an answer, we may be unable to find any word to describe it and any way to logically defend it. But it’s more than okay if we at least try to answer. And that’s what believing in Jesus is all about. “But who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks us. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” We may also confess like Peter, but let us first hear what our hearts say today and answer the question. As we look for our deep authentic answer of faith, may the Holy Spirit guide us and inspire us to know Jesus better and follow him closer day by day. Amen.