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Emmanuel Church, Plymouth
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Tony's Reflection 70
Did you ever see the political interviewer Robin Day on TV?
For those of us who recall Brian Walden’s hour-long grillings of politicians from the 1980s, or who enjoy the cut and thrust of seeing ministers verbally “roughed up a bit” by Andrew Marr or Jeremy Paxman, Robin Day looks pretty tame.
Back in the late 1950s, though, he was absolute dynamite. He asked Harry Truman if he regretted dropping the A-bomb. He asked Colonel Nasser if he accepted the existence of Israel. He asked Harold Macmillan if he would fire his Foreign Secretary after the debacle of Suez. Back then, they were used to interviewers who treated politicians with deference and kid gloves. Robin Day was different and he caused a sensation.
Jesus also knew how to ask the million-dollar question to devastating effect, as we see in today’s episode (
The heat is searing. The sun is beating down mercilessly and the “road”, if you can give this dusty, tortuous, up and down track such a dignified name, is long and hard. Jesus and his followers are on a stamina sapping 25 mile hike, to the nearest big city, Caesarea Philippi. They are soaked in sweat and short of breath. Conversation has lulled and their gaze is fixed on the path, picking their way between ankle-turning rocks, rather than looking at each other.
Jesus breaks the silence.
“Who do people say I am?”
A pretty innocuous question. It seems like Jesus is just looking for something to talk about to break the monotony. The Twelve carry on picking their way along the path, barely looking up. One after another, they call out their answers. No one needs to think about what to say. In fact, they are a little surprised Jesus has even asked. Surely he must know what the gossip is about him? They trot out the expected answers… “John the Baptist”, “Elijah”, “one of the prophets”.
They remember what they have seen Jesus do. Demons routed with a single word. A dead girl brought to life as easily as waking someone from sleep. Storms calmed twice, thousands of people fed out of thin air, not just once but twice and whole crowds of people healed.
The happy memories bring back a smile and a sparkle of excitement to the boredom of the journey. Yes, this Jesus was certainly one-of-a-kind. A real-life superhero. God was doing something unheard of through him.
Then a question which quite literally stopped them in their tracks.
“Who do you say I am?”
No one moves. They look awkwardly from one to another, wondering how to answer.
Their nation has been longing, for over 400 years, to have someone come, sent by God, with a direct message from him to them. Jesus has made those dreams come true and is as good as any superstar prophet from the distant past, like Elijah, or even the very recent past, like John the Baptist.
Everyone in Israel was hoping for a new prophet. These twelve followers have seen Jesus do so much. Could he be even more than a prophet? How much more could he be? How high dare they go in what they say about him?
Mark has already told us very recently that despite all they had seen, these disciples had hard, stony hearts. They could no more tell you who Jesus is, than a rock could tell you 2+2 = 4. The truth was right there in front of them, in all Jesus had done and said before their very eyes, but they just couldn’t see it. They were blind.
Then, a miracle happened.
Peter has a eureka moment. His blindness is cured and suddenly he sees clearly the truth of who Jesus is. He speaks out loud what the others still don’t see.
“You are the Christ.”
In our day, that does not sound extraordinary. We often think “Christ” is just Jesus’ second name. It meant so much more back then.
“The Christ” was God’s unique messenger. He was divine and human at the same time. He was going to right every wrong. He would bring everyone up close and personal with God. He was the answer to the nation’s dreams. A prophet, certainly, but so much more.
Who do people around you reckon Jesus is? A fine teacher? A good man?
Who do you say he is?
Perhaps you have been reading these reflections with interested curiosity. You want to know more about Jesus. You need to make a decision, though. Who do you reckon he is?
Maybe you have already made your decision. There was a time when you, like the disciples, had a hard heart. You couldn’t “get” Jesus. You couldn’t see the truth right in front of your eyes. You were blind. Like Peter, a miracle has happened for you. You now see who Jesus is.
Back then, Peter’s answer was earthshattering. It was social, political and spiritual dynamite. How do you handle high explosive? Cautiously. That’s why Jesus told them to keep quiet. If they had told all and sundry he was “the Christ”, before they understood what was going to happen next, everything would have been blown skyhigh.
Have you seen the truth about Jesus? You, too, need to understand what is coming next in Mark’s gospel … like the blindman had needed two “doses” before he saw clearly, the disciples would need another fix for their spiritual eyesight. You might, as well.