Who Are You Jesus?Posted: September 7, 2015
Who Are You Jesus?
SLIDE 3: DIVERSITY OF 1ST CENTURY ISRAEL
Judaism in First Century Israel was very diverse. Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots and Essenes were only broad categories of different approaches to the Jewish faith. Within those categories of faith were numerous sub-groups who competed with one another to capture the imagination of the Jewish people. And at this point in history there were many more Jews living outside the Jewish homeland in the Diaspora than inside.
SLIDE 4: DIFFERENT MESSIAHS
The word Messiah was used by almost all communities within Judaism, although it had a different meaning depending upon the group. The zealots were looking for a charismatic military leader, who would inspire an army of Jews to throw the Romans out of the Jewish homeland. The Sadducees were primarily invested in protecting the Priesthood and the privileges and revenues of the Temple. A Kingly Messiah might limit the power and privileges of the Sadducees, so they became nervous whenever “messiah” was mentioned. The Essenes were looking for a heavenly figure who would come to earth, throw the corrupt Priesthood out of the Temple, cleanse the Holy of Holies and install a new more faithful priesthood of the Essenes. The Pharisees were all over the place. Some of the Rabbis looked for a military leader, who would defeat the Romans and restore Israeli sovereignty. Other Pharisees believed that only a heavenly Messiah could defeat the Romans and bring back a King from the line of David. Radicals like John the Baptist were looking for a heavenly Messiah who would call all of the people to repentance transform the whole world and bring God’s rule to earth. Most Jews were familiar with the word “Messiah,” but there was no single definition of its meaning.
So in our scripture, when Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter responded, “You are the Messiah,” we may want to know what Peter meant, when he used that title, and we also may want to discern how Jesus understood the role of the Messiah.
SLIDE 5: PETER: “YOU ARE THE MESSIAH”
First, what was Peter’s meaning, when he said, “You are the Messiah!” According to the Gospel of John, Peter had been a follower of John the Baptist. So Peter was probably thinking of Jesus as a heaven sent leader, who would transform the world and bring God’s rule to earth. The healings that occurred in the ministry of Jesus as well as other events the disciples interpreted as “miraculous signs,” the feeding of the multitude, the calming of the storm, the dramatic exorcisms of demonic spirits, led Peter to believe that Jesus carried within him the very power of heaven. While Peter may have been unsure just how Jesus would transform Israel, he believed he was the Messiah, and he had the power to change the world.
SLIDE 6: JESUS: SON OF MAN
Now what did Jesus mean by the title Messiah? First let us note in this passage in the Gospel of Mark Jesus did not refer to himself as the Messiah. When Peter said, “You are the Messiah,” Jesus responded, “keep it quiet; do not to breathe a word of it to anyone.” Jesus then proceeded to use an ambiguous term from the Hebrew Scriptures, and some apocalyptic works of the 1st century, “Son of Man.” In the Book of Daniel, “son of man,” is a heavenly being who comes to signal the end of history and the final judgment. The prophet Ezekiel, however, refers to himself as “son of man,” and in other contexts “son of man” seems to mean a human messianic figure. While many New Testament writers refer to a heavenly being who comes to signal the end of history, Jesus here in the Gospel of Mark points to a very human figure, who will suffer, like the “suffering servant” passages of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12). The “suffering servant” in Isaiah was a messianic figure, or perhaps Israel itself in exile, that would redeem the people through suffering.
SLIDE 7: DON’T RUN FROM SUFFERING
In our passage from Mark Jesus said, “Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me, and I will show you how.” These words of Jesus are reminiscent of Martin Luther King’s Six Principles of Non-violence. Allow me to enumerate them.
SLIDE 8: SIX PRINCIPLES OF NON-VIOLENCE
PRINCIPLE ONE: Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people. It is active nonviolent resistance to evil. It is aggressive spiritually, mentally and emotionally.
PRINCIPLE TWO: Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding. The end result of nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation. The purpose of nonviolence is the creation of the Beloved Community.
PRINCIPLE THREE: Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people.
PRINCIPLE FOUR: Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform. Nonviolence accepts suffering without retaliation. Unearned suffering is redemptive and has tremendous educational and transforming possibilities.
PRINCIPLE FIVE: Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.
Nonviolence resists violence of the spirit as well as the body.
Nonviolent love is spontaneous, unmotivated, unselfish and creative.
PRINCIPLE SIX: Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice. The nonviolent resister has deep faith that justice will eventually win. Nonviolence believes that God is a God of justice.
SLIDE 9: IF YOU WANT TO CHANGE THE WORLD BE PREPARED TO SUFFER
I think like Martin Luther King Jesus was teaching his followers, if you want to change the world you must be prepared to suffer. You can change the world by embracing self-sacrificing non-violent love. Rabbi Rami in his Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent places Jesus’ words and actions into context.
SLIDE 10: TAKING UP YOUR CROSS — A POLITICAL ACT
“The cross in first-century, Roman-occupied, Jewish Palestine meant only one thing death. Taking up your cross and following Jesus was not a disembodied act of faith, but a political act of nonviolent resistance. Jesus calls you to confront the evils of your day, knowing that doing so may cost you your life. If you are going to die, make your death matter by making your life matter: die in service to the living.”
SLIDE 11: VANDALISM AND PROTEST AGAINST THE MOSQUE
Rabbi Shapiro who recently retired from teaching at Middle Tennessee State University was on the firing line in Murfreesboro over the building of a new Mosque. Like many other cities in Middle America the Islamic population in Murfreesboro has grown dramatically. The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro has over 1,000 congregants and they sought to build a new Mosque igniting protests and even vandalism and arson of the construction site by Christian religious conservatives. The controversy gained national attention in 2010, when a candidate for the vacant congressional seat in Tennessee’s 6th district, issued a statement in opposition to the mosque, denouncing the planned building as “an Islamic training center,” saying that it was not a bona fide religious institution but a political one “designed to fracture the moral and political foundation of Middle Tennessee.”
SLIDE 12: PLEASE GIVE JESUS MORE CREDIT AND DON’T DUMB DOWN CHRISTIANITY
In response Rabbi Shapiro helped to organize Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu support for the Mosque’s constitutional rights. At one event to promote interfaith support for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro in response to a conservative Christian protestor who claimed that Jesus didn’t have room in heaven for Muslims, Rabbi Rami said, “Please give Jesus more credit and do not “dumb down” Christianity.” If we want to follow the way of Jesus, we must be willing to put ourselves on the line for justice – racial justice, religious justice, economic justice.
SLIDE 13: FEED THE HUNGRY, HEAL THE SICK EDUCATE THE YOUNG
When Jesus says, “take up your cross and follow me,” he doesn’t primarily mean come to church. He is not exhorting us to engage more faithfully in prayer, or worship or Bible Study, all of which may lead to spiritual growth. But our exercise of piety is not a substitute for mission, service, and peaceful, non-violent advocacy for justice — feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, heal the sick, educate the young, take care of the old.
SLIDE 14: TAKE UP YOUR CROSS — RACIAL, ECONOMIC, ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
Now I understand that advocating for justice will take us dangerously close to politics. The allure of power can be subtle and beguiling. People of good conscience will disagree about candidates and issues that emerge in political campaigns. And with the craziness of the 2016 Presidential race already in full swing we must be careful about mixing faith and politics. In fact I wish some of the candidates would be more careful about waving their religion around in their political campaigns. But also remember, we cannot love kindness, do justice and walk humbly with our God without impacting public policy. We still have issues of racial justice, economic justice and environmental justice to be addressed, if we are to take up our crosses and follow in the way of Jesus.