Who do you say I am?

Some time ago there was an article in the Milwaukee Courier about the event at Caesarea Philippi when Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” And then the soul-searching, “But who do you say I am?”

Paraphrasing the encounter, the writer said that if Jesus came today and asked some of our theologians that question the answer would probably go something like this:

“You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of being and of the faith community, the Kerygma manifested in conflict, the self-realization of personhood and the motivational encounter for the process of humanizing and socializing mankind.”

To which Jesus would reply, “I am what?” And he would straightway instruct his disciples, “Tell no one who I am for I can’t recall the formula or repeat it myself!”

Dan Jones is the minister of the First Christian Church in Garland. He was my associate in Temple just before my retirement in 1986. In one of his church newsletters, he told about something that took place in a ministerial study group to which he belonged.

It was the Lenten season and they were talking about Jesus and one of the members wanted to know: “Who was He really?” One after another they proceeded to tell him in rather theological language: “Jesus was the incarnation, the Son of Man, the Messiah. He was the Crucified One, the Suffering Servant. He was the Pre-existent Christ, incomprehensibly both human and divine.”

“But who was Jesus, really?” the man persisted. They all fell silent. Theological explanations or titles were not enough. Jesus was more to them than that, and in their hearts they knew Jesus demanded more. He wanted heartfelt confessions — “Who do YOU say I am?”

Then, one by one, they told their stories: “When my father died and my whole world fell apart, Jesus was my light in the darkness.” “When my daughter was diagnosed with cancer and the doctor didn’t think she would make it, Jesus was my strength.” “When I had back surgery there were complications. Days turned into weeks and months. Jesus was my courage and hope.” “When my husband left me and the kids and we had only a few dollars to live on, Jesus was my very present help in trouble.”

Who was Jesus, really? So many people are wondering and asking. What is your answer? Perhaps if you just told them your story they would come to know.

Rev. Nichols is Minister Emeritus of First Christian Church, Temple, where he served as senior minister for 23 years. He writes a column for several newspapers.

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2010-01-21 digital edition

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