Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ They answered, ‘John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘The Messiah of God.’
This is a famous passage, and familiarity can sometime breed, if not contempt, at least a lack of wonder. Reflective contemplation can help us engage with the text.
Sit comfortably, with your hands relaxed in your lap. Read the passage a couple of times, then close your eyes, slow your breathing, and replay the scene: Hear the questions, sense the mood, notice your reactions. I wonder what it looks like, feels like, smells like.
I wonder who you are. I wonder what you say. I wonder …
There’s an elephant in the room. A huge, grey, ear-flapping elephant with brown eyes and grubby feet by the name of Jesus bar-Joseph. And he’s sitting under a tree right in front of me.
We’re taking a break, me and the other disciples. I think we all need a bit of down-time to process everything that’s been going on, you know? Jesus too. He looks worn out. Is he praying or sleeping?
Then he looks up. ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’, he asks, and we all look at each other in silence. I catch the eye of James. We’d been talking about this earlier, on the way up here. I wonder if Jesus overheard. I feel embarrassed.
‘John the Baptist’, says James. Hmmn, we’ve all heard folks say that, but … really? His cousin? I check the other disciples. No-one’s buying that.
‘Elijah’, pipes up Andrew, ‘or one of the ancient prophets’. More sideways glances. No-one’s convinced by that either. There’s an expectant buzz in the air, like when my wife was telling me we were expecting our son.
‘But who do you say that I am?’
I gulp. My mouth goes dry. I look round, but everyone is looking at me. I lift my gaze to the brown eyes and say what we are all thinking.
Messiah of God, as your disciples learned to see your glory through the dusty humanity of your earthly body, so may we, your body on earth, reflect your glory that all may see. For you reign over Earth and Heaven, who was, and is, and is to come, eternally, the Messiah of God. Amen
Fay Rowland, a graduate student at Wesley House, Cambridge Theological Federation, worships at St Botolph’s Church of England, Northants.
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