Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, "Who do men say I am?" They answered, "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, others one of the prophets." "And you," he asked them, "who do you say I am?" Peter replied, "You are the Messiah." Then he gave them strict orders not to tell anyone about him; and he began to teach them that the Son of Man had to undergo great sufferings, and to be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and doctors of the law; to be put to death, and to rise again three days afterwards. He spoke about it plainly. At this Peter took him by the arm and began to rebuke him. But Jesus turned round, and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter, "Away with you, Satan," he said; "you think as men think, not as God thinks." Mark 8: 17-24
Some Christians think of Jesus only as the Savior forgetting that he spent years first being the Teacher. Indeed, in these gospel verses Jesus is walking along the road and the whole class is with him. And, good teacher that he is, as they walk, Jesus asks questions, first of the whole group and then by singling out Peter. The best teachers ask questions to get people thinking and not just to have information spouted back.
So Jesus asks something like, "What are people saying about me these days?" And the disciples give a pious answer: "Moses, Elijah, a prophet." But then Jesus turns the conversation, asking them about their own experience. Jesus is supposed to be a lived experience, not simply a truth we swear by: a faith-sentence on a page.
And when Peter chimes in with another pious answer, "You're the Messiah," Jesus, knowing that Messiah means super-king, takes the opportunity to open up for everyone the ideas of suffering, rejection, death and rising. Peter refuses that idea saying, "Oh, nothing doing Jesus. Don't even think it, Jesus." To this Jesus gets really angry: in a flash of bad temper even calling Peter, Satan, who thwarts God's purposes.
Well, the Gospels are alive and as much about today as centuries ago, so the questions Jesus posed are for us to answer too. We can either wrestle with those questions or click escape.
We might fill in the blank at the top of the page. But don't give a catechism answer, and (as I often say to people) don't use any religious sounding words in your answer: Savior, Redeemer, Blood of the Lamb, King, Lord, Messiah. Resorting to religious vocabulary is too easy. We might have to sit a long time to identify and express the deeply personal and interior experience of Jesus which is ours.
"Christ, you have come to disturb us," Dostoevsky wrote. To be disturbed is the last thing many religious people want. But to allow my mind, my heart, my consciousness, my inner aspect to be changed or troubled...?
We usually think of the disciple as a follower. But that's awfully passive. Instead, I'd say a disciple is a student. I want to be Jesus' pupil. That's why in every icon, even where he is depicted as a child, Jesus holds a scroll with a sentence for me to experience personally. Sometimes the scroll is rolled up (or the book is closed) leaving me to ponder what message Jesus has in store for me individually.
But could I suggest the message won't be: "There, there now, everything will be alright," but rather something more like, "Wake up now, sleeper!" And that message might be for our nation, for the world, for the Church...
Here in this mosaic of Christ the Teacher, Jesus seems to be looking off to the side of the classroom where so many of us hope to hide. What if I dared to open the teacher's book? Which, by the way, is not a grade book!