What I’m Reading Today: Matthew 16-17
One of the things I love about the sacred writings of our tradition is their amazing complexity. That complexity is evident in so many places – one of which is how we go about thinking of who Jesus is/was.
In the 16th chapter of Matthew, for instance, we are told the story of Jesus’ question to the disciples: “Who do you say I am?” Peter’s eventual answer – “You’re the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God” – uses language that suggests Jesus is special, or unique.
Just one chapter later, however, we hear a story in which a man requests healing for his son that is battling what we today might describe as epilepsy. As he made his request, the man noted he tried getting help from Jesus’ disciples but they couldn’t help him out. After Jesus healed the man’s son, the disciples asked Jesus why they couldn’t do what he did. Jesus replied: “Because you’re not yet taking God seriously.” His answer suggests that Jesus didn’t think of himself as being all that special/different than the disciples. Jesus felt others should be able to do what he did.
So which way is it? Is Jesus special/different than us, or not?
That is a question that theologians have been wrestling with for centuries. The complexities is why we have a range of answers to that question ranging from “Jesus is totally special and unlike any of us” (what some call “high Christology”) to “Jesus is no different than you or I” (what some call “low Christology”). Of course, there are answers to the question that lie between these two extremes.
The challenge for people of faith who identify as Christian – then – is two-fold. First, what answer do I come to regarding that question; and second, in what ways do I hold on to my answer.
Over the last couple of centuries we have paid a whole lot of attention to the first challenge – the part where we formulate an answer to the question of how special Jesus is.
During this same period of time, however, we have paid very little attention to the second challenge – the part that has to do with the ways in which we hold on to our answer to the question. As a result, there is sometimes a HUGE amount of arrogance to the ways in which people hold on to their answer to the question.
Some of those with a high Christology say, “Of course Jesus is completely unique. Anyone weirdo who doesn’t think so is not – I repeat, NOT - a Christian.” Some of those with a low Christology say, “Objective historical/sociological studies tells us that Jesus had to be just like you and I. Anyone who thinks differently is a superstitious moron who probably believes in the Easter Bunny too.” It’s no wonder we struggle to build unity amongst the body of Christ!!
In recognition of the complexity of the questions before us – and in a call to lead a life that truly reflects the values of Jesus – I would encourage you to re-visit the question of who Jesus was today. As you arrive at your answer, immediately ask yourself: “How does the answer I’m resting in affect the way I see others (both other Christians and others in general).”
I believe the answer to THAT question will reveal even more about what each of us truly believes about Jesus.
Til next time …