Joshua Serrano, San Carlos, CA
- How would you describe what makes a good friend?
- How do you think you can be a good friend to others?
- Is there anything that holds you back from being a good friend?
I once heard a story about a rabbi walking along a road. He is deep in thought and instead of making a right at the fork in the road he walks on the path to the left. Suddenly he hears someone call out to him, “Who are you? What are you doing here?” Shaken from his thoughts he sees that he is now standing in front of a fort with a Roman soldier calling out from the wall. The rabbi answers with a question, “How much do they pay you to ask me those two questions?” The soldier replies, “One denarius.” The rabbi answers, “Come follow me, I will pay you double to ask me those same two questions every morning before I start my day.”
So, who are you? What are you doing here? The rabbi recognized the significance of these questions and wanted to remember them every morning. Likewise, we are often confronted with questions of our own identities. Contemplating these questions helps us better understand ourselves.
- How would you describe yourself?
- Do you think you have a purpose in life?
- In what ways do you recognize the importance of identity?
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.)
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
In this reading we learn that there was some confusion about the identity of Jesus. People were asking, “Is he John the Baptist or Elijah back from the dead? Is he a prophet?” Many people are still asking this very question—who is Jesus? There are hundreds of books about Jesus. Some claim he was an ascetic or mystic. Some claim Jesus was a prophet. Others claim that he was an apocalyptic teacher. It is no wonder then that Jesus wanted to know what others were saying about him.
Peter is the only one to gets it right. Peter declares, “You are the Messiah.” We know that Peter is right because Jesus then orders Peter not to say anything to anyone. He wants Peter to keep it a secret. Irony of ironies! Jesus asks people about his identity and then orders them to not talk about it anymore when someone gets it right!
What’s more important is that Jesus goes on to teach them what Peter’s declaration means: The Messiah is not a conqueror, but a servant. Jesus will experience everything about being human, not just the good parts. Jesus will suffer, be rejected, and he will even be killed – but in the end he will rise again. Death does not have the final say.
Even though Peter called out the correct answer earlier, he hadn’t actually understood what it meant. Peter takes Jesus aside and tries to get him to rein in those words, to stop saying those things. Perhaps this was not what Peter had in mind as the path of the Messiah. But Jesus turns away from the temptation, returning to his path as he returned to the crowd.
Jesus says to the disciples, the crowd, and to us, miles apart and centuries away: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Jesus shows us that we return to our true identities not in trying to be victorious in all things in life; instead, we gain awareness of our true identities by being of service. It is a wonder that as we allow ourselves to be drawn away from our self-focus, the way of Jesus beckons us to return to our own identity. This identity is not marked in trying to rule or control the world, but to serve it. In Jesus, we understand that the Messiah came to show us the path to God. The path we follow calls us to new ways of being. Following is not easy, but it is worth it.
- Why do you think Peter was rebuking Jesus?
- What does Jesus mean when he says to deny yourself?
- Why is the identity of Jesus so important?
- How might Jesus be calling you to serve in your community, in your studies and your work, or elsewhere?
Take some time to think about the unique characteristics of those around you. Tell your friends, family, or loved ones what you most appreciate about them.
God of compassion, you called Jesus into this world not to be served, but to serve. Help us to follow in his ways so that we may reflect your love for us. Amen.