Mark 8: 27-35
A year or so ago there was a movie out by the name Soul Surfer. It’s based on a true story of a young girl named Bethany Hamilton, who was about 13 or 14 at the time. Surfing was her life. She loved being in the water. She loved surfing and in many ways defined who she was as a person. Until she was attacked by a shark and ended up losing her right arm. Now she was a prayerful person and a believer in God, but that didn’t stop the downward spiral she experienced in her life after the accident. The one thing that gave her her identity was now gone. She could no longer surf and she was forced to begin to see who she really was beyond what she did; she had to begin to seek out her true identity as a person.
The question of identity is one that is Jesus confronts the disciples with in today’s gospel. Many scripture scholars believe that this is the real climax of Mark’s Gospel in the revelation of Jesus as the Christ. He begins the questioning in a noncommittal and nonthreatening kind of way to the disciples, simply asking them what others are saying about him. We know their answers of John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets, and yes he was all of that and more. He was one of those great prophets.
But again, like only Mark can do, he quickly shows the ignorance of the disciples by having Peter blurt out that he is the Christ. That would have been a dangerous term since it was used by other leaders as well, and with the pharisees and scribes already looking for reasons to go after Jesus, a title like that could only stir more trouble. Another theme in the Gospel is this secret. After Peter makes the claim he quickly tells them to tell no one of this revelation, not because he didn’t want anyone to know, but because the true identity of Jesus had not yet fully been revealed to them. They wanted a leader who would wear a crown, but for Jesus, it was about getting to the cross and that is where the true identity would be revealed. The very next event in Mark’s gospel is the Transfiguration, again, showing us that the disciples still didn’t get it. Jesus could tell them all he wants about suffering and the cross, but until it is their experience, they are going to have a hard time understanding what the Christ is really about.
Jesus himself goes onto say that the cross and suffering were necessary. Like Bethany, sometimes we have to face the dark, downward spiral of life to begin to truly understand our own identity and who the Christ is to us. The question posed by Jesus today isn’t just for the disciples of 2000 years ago, it’s for us today. Who do we say Jesus is to us? We all have to confront and tackle that question at some point, and as Mark tells us, it must include the journey into Jerusalem and the cross. Like the disciples, we can’t have the crown without first making our way to the cross.
My friends, as we gather today we are challenged to ask ourselves that question today, who do we say Jesus is? Who do you say that Jesus is? The more we can begin to tackle the answers to that question, the more our true identity in Christ, in the Christ crucified, will be revealed to us. Who do YOU say that I AM?