August 2020

Who Do You Say that I Am?

12th Sunday After Pentecost, August 23, 2020
Matthew 16:13-25

– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –

The reading from Matthew’s gospel doesn’t convey the full story. After Jesus commends Peter for his confession that he is “the Messiah, Son of the living God,” and then instructs his followers to tell no one, we quickly understand why the need for secrecy. The reason is that not even Peter fully comprehended the meaning of what he said, at least not as Jesus understood what being God’s Messiah, or chosen one, meant. For when Jesus explained that his life would entail suffering and death, Peter refused to accept it, literally telling him to shut up! But Christ refused to be quiet and acquiesce to false notions of who he was. It was they, not he, who hand to change.

It is interesting to note that embedded in the question, “Who do you say that I am?” is the answer, “I am.” I am is the traditional Jewish reference to God as Yahweh meaning “I am what I am.” (Exodus 3:14) This, for me, is a crucial matter in that, despite what others said of him or desired him to be, Jesus, the incarnation of God, would be what he was meant to be.

I raise this point amid the national and international controversy over the slogan, “Black Lives Matter,” as it confronts the equally controversial response, “All Lives Matter.” Most of us have been raised to believe that if all lives matter, then black lives matter as well, and that the sayings are two sides of the same coin. But black people are rebutting this response in the same manner that Jesus rebutted Peter’s confession and preconceived notions.

We are just beginning to scratch the surface of the beautiful and complex diversity of God’s presence among us. But as we fathom the depths of this divine complexity, those of us who claim that with God all lives matter are discovering our reservations in the wake of our awareness that our sons or daughters or spouses or loved ones are gay or lesbian or bisexual or transsexual or intersexual or biracial, or of a different faith or culture. When we find ourselves feeling glad we are not them, or wishing those we love were different than who they are, then how can we say all lives matter when, as far as our world is concerned, they don’t.

If you find yourself feeling glad that you are not me because of the daily suspicion and prejudice I encounter, and hoping that those you love are not coupled in any meaningful or romantic way with black or brown people because of the guilt by association they will encounter in a racially segregated world, how can you say that all lives matter when, as far as your world is concerned, they don’t.

And how can we confess that Jesus is the Messiah, Son of the living God if we’re not equally willing to identify with those our world considers the least among them, the despised and rejected, those commonly acquainted with grief, with whom Christ identified and called members of his family. (Matthew 25:40)

Until we are able to see God in the lives and faces of those we’re glad not to be, then we will always be standing outside the circle of those on whom the heavenly dove has landed and the voice of God has claimed, “These are my children whom I love, in whom I am well pleased.”

Who do you say that Jesus is, and who, therefore, are you?