"He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’" - Matthew 16:15
Jesus asks the disciples. Simon answers -- bold, impetuous Simon -- presumably for them all, and for us: "‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’" And Jesus praises him and renames him Peter.
Simon tells Jesus who he is. Jesus tells Simon who he is.
Who do you say that I am?
If we ask, we'd best be prepared to hear the answer. Simon didn't become the Rock in that moment. Peter is who he always was. In claiming what he knows to be true about Jesus, he opens himself to what is true about himself. As do we. Like Paul reminds us in Galatians 2: "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me." No longer I, but Christ. No longer Simon, the old man, but Peter (cf. especially Colossians 3:9-10).
The old man -- woman -- is familiar. She knows who she is. Limited. Mistake-prone. Proud. A bit vain. Kinda lazy. I know her. I know her past, what has led her to this moment. I know what she does and doesn't do. I know her name.
But who do you say that I am?
Israel was awaiting the Messiah because it meant that the exile from the promised land would finally be at an end and God would become king. Israel's true nature would finally be made known; the whole wide world would recognize Israel as God's chosen, God's Son. And what is true of Israel is true of humanity, of which Israel is the chosen remnant. So -- follow me here -- what is true of the Messiah is true of Israel, and what is true of Israel is true of humankind. And what is true of humankind is true of me.
Because of Him. No longer I, but Christ.
Who does God say that I am?
What is it that you know, in your deepest place, is true of you. What is the grace that you hide? That you hesitate to name? What are you gifted to do? What are you blessed to give to the world? What is your passion? What brings you joy? I cannot say it better than theologian Frederick Buechner, but allow me to make it a question: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Where is that place for you?
We are on the eve of a new year. I love new beginnings, probably because I make a lot of mistakes and like the chance to start fresh. Fortunately, as the author of Lamentations says (3:2-23a):
"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning..."
We stand, you and me and the whole wide world, on the cusp of a new morning, a new day, a new year. Join me in asking the very one who gives us our names: Who do you say that I am? And be ready to embrace the answer. And live it.
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. - Matthew 2:16
They were only trying to do the right thing. They saw the star, some astrological phenomenon, a sign. They discerned its meaning as best they could. They responded to the summons revealed in the sign. They conferred with the local authority. They spoke honestly of what they knew. They completed their journey with the worship of the new king. They even went so far as to heed the warning of the dream, avoiding making any further revelation to Herod as they departed.
As a consequence of their actions, Herod, in a fury, orders the slaughter of the innocents of Bethlehem.
How might I have felt as one of the Magi, had I heard about this massacre? I might have believed, It was my fault. If we had not gone to Herod...
Maybe I would blame God: Why the second dream, the dream to flee, and not a first dream, a dream warning me not to go to Herod in the first place? Why send me to Bethlehem if this, this, was to be the consequence?
Why is Jesus alone spared and those other children allowed to perish?
Of course, this tale, historical or not, is a loud echo of the Passover narrative of Exodus 12, a story in which God allows the deaths of the holy innocents of Egypt.
And it is a sad echo of Damascus, Syria, and rural Kenya and Newtown, Connecticut, which so recently witnessed the slaughter of more holy innocents.
The questions today are the same questions that those foreign astrologers might have asked: Why, O God? Is there something else we might have done?
Those two burning questions haunt this world broken by sin. Why does God allow evil to persist? What are we called to do, as the Body of Christ, in the wake of evil?
When I was younger, I believed that good actions necessarily would lead to positive consequences. If I did right, I and others would be blessed, by which I meant we would receive a happy reward. One the first lessons of my adulthood was the realization that doing God's will doesn't necessarily lead to temporal happiness. Quite the contrary. The Biblical view is clear: Following God's will perfectly leads to crucifixion on a Roman cross.
What's more, doing God's will doesn't necessarily look to the world like doing the right thing. Could it look like revealing the fulfillment of a prophecy to an evil king? Like being the only survivor amidst the wreckage?
Our lives go on in peace while others suffer. I have a happy Christmas with my children while other parents bury theirs.
All we know is this -- that the Son of God, born in a cave, is spared this tragic end only so he can suffer a different tragic end, and that, by the cross, he is present to every tragedy, there in the horror and the suffering and the grief. And by his resurrection he does -- and we can -- bring the hope that proclaims that even in the death of innocents, evil will never have the final word.