Who Do You Say That I Am? Lenten Series Post #7
In Matthew: 16, Mark: 8 and Luke: 9, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do the people say I am?” He followed that question with, “Who do you think I am?” It’s sort of strange, these questions, because clearly Jesus knew who he was. Still stranger was that Jesus frequently asked that the disciples not tell anyone about his identity (Mark 8: 27-30).
Jesus was enormously popular from the start of his three-year ministry with regular people: sick people, sad people, rich and poor people. He could easily have commanded them to do whatever he asked but he didn’t. I think that his question, “Who do you think I am”, holds a clue to understanding why Jesus asked the question and then forbade the broadcast of its answer.
Easily, the best advice I have been given on how to parent adult children has been “Keep your door open and your mouth shut”. Even as adults, our offspring are going to make dumb decisions with lasting bad consequences, embarrass us in public, and do things that are stupid, illegal and unwise. The concept of keeping our homes’ doors open and our parental, critical, judgmental mouths shut emphasizes the need to preserve our relationships with them over everything. The relationships we have with our children need to be paramount to our anger or disappointment with them and their choices. All kids, even our grown, competent (and incompetent) children need to hear from us that nothing they do will make us stop loving them. They need to know in a bone-deep way that their failures will not separate them from the family. Who do we say they are? Our beloved children. Not the failure and embarrassment that they may think they have become.
The book “Entangled Life”, by mycologist and awesomely-named author Merlin Sheldrake, describes a world filled with millions and millions of uncountable relationships. He focuses on fungi, and their relationships with plants and animals, but describes a world where the individual is nearly irrelevant. Our concept of ourselves as set apart, in our uniqueness and individuality, is neatly destroyed by his descriptions of a world hidden by our human chauvinism and modeled hierarchies of life which, of course, place us at the top. Fungi have been around for more than a billion years; they are both smart and discreet. Humans evolved less than a million years ago. Who is really in charge when humans since ancient times toil to grow wheat, plant grapes, ferment both with yeast to brew or distill alcohol? Who did you say you are?
Pulitzer Prize winning author Ed Yong, in his book “I Contain the Multitudes”, notes that half of our human bodies are made up of non-human cells: bacteria, yeast, viruses, gut biota, parasites both helpful and harmful of all kinds. We are not individuals but ecosystems. We are built literally of relationships.
I think that this concept of relationship is at the heart of Jesus’ questions to the disciples: Who do you say I am? He could have lectured them on who he was. He didn’t. He valued their opinions and the ideas of the people who followed him. He wanted to be in relationship with them and how they characterized his identity mattered to him. He valued relationships over power. He asks us to be in relationship with each other to form the Kingdom of God on Earth, the body of Christ, the holy community. If the pandemic isolation taught us anything, it told that we are enmeshed with each other and cannot live without each other. We are defined, not by our glittering achievements or spectacular failures but, by our relationships and their richness. Let’s all get entangled and think of each other, collectively, rather than our false concept of the stand-alone self-styled human, when answering for ourselves, “Who do we think we are”?
— Margaret Wohler
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog