Who is good at maths? Who can count to 10? Adding…subtracting…timesing…dividing…
What about this one? (5(2y-3))/3y =3 [from Anna’s paper]
Up until this point, it is like the disciples have been learning to count. But here, it is a bit like Jesus jumps from learning to count straight to algebra. It’s really, really hard.
After this, Jesus will take them back and go more slowly, like the steps of learning to add, subtract and then multiply, but at this moment, he needs them to shift gear, and that is going to be challenging for all of them.
As in so many of his encounters, Jesus teaches them this hard lesson, and in it helps them shift gear, by asking a really good question; Who do you think I am?
If, as they say, Jesus was being mistaken for John the Baptist or Elijah, we can throw any illusions of gentle Jesus meek and mild out of the window. Jesus was challenging to be around, and no more so than in the exchange that follows this question.
They have been going around with him, thinking that he is just their favourite prophet. But now they are being urged to face some hard questions. They have seen who Jesus is and the things that he does, now they have to ask themselves; could this be the messiah?
Their scriptures had prepared them to expect someone who would be a prophet announcing the Kingdom of God.
Who would talk about a place where God would reign with justice and mercy.
Who would bring healing and battle with evil, which for them would surely mean Roman Rule. They thought that when this person came the Roman rulers would fade into insignificance, and with them would go oppression and corruption.
It was beginning to add up.
Jesus has led them to truly believe they are witnessing the beginning of Gods power breaking in.
And now they need to the next step – not just think he is the announcer of the Kingdom; but to believe he is the King.
The Jewish Scriptures made the Kings job description clear:
He would rebuild, or cleanse, the temple.
He would defeat the enemy threatening God’s people.
He would bring God’s justice to bear within Israel and throughout the world.
And, centrally, the Messiah would be God’s agent in bringing the kingdom of God and sorting out the mess Israel were in.
Jesus would indeed fulfill this job description,
but not in a way anyone expected.
This may have been becoming clear to the disciples,
as they saw a distinct lack of military, or programme.
Jesus had just been going about demonstrating a new way,
with healing and power. He was gathering followers,
but he was also gathering enemies.
Jesus was changing the face of the expected messiah.
Jesus, this messiah, was dangerous and high risk.
To claim he was the true king of Israel was politically dangerous and theologically risky. Not only that, but the invitation to follow him was pretty hairy too.
Jesus seemed to be saying, I am going to loose.
Come along with me and loose with me!
From the scriptures they knew these maths:
a dead messiah = false messiah.
The disciples were facing this huge leap.
They were expecting a triumphant warrior who would free them from their present oppression. They wanted things to change now.
They were being faced with one who would suffer and die, and who was going to overcome cosmic evil and establish a new Kingdom. He was turning everything upside-down with the hope of now and not yet.
It’s not what they were bargaining for.
But it was so much God’s plan, that Peter is brutally resisted when he opposes it.
The journey is going to be harder than they could have imagined, but the outcome is going to be beyond their limited dreams. But, they have to know it is worth making the journey. They have to know who exactly Jesus is and if he is worth following down this difficult path.
We too need to examine our own answers to these questions. Who do you say Jesus is?
Would it feel safer if he were simply a great human teacher? Would we prefer a superman figure, able to zap our problems? Are we ready to have the easy answers of our culture challenged by the actual Jesus, and his call to follow him on a risky adventure?
We have our own perceptions of what we would like the Kingdom of God to be like, but the reality is always going to be beyond us, beyond our wildest dreams. The life that we find when we follow Christ is life in abundance.
Life lived for the sake of others, not for our own sake.
But that is no easy stroll. It doesn’t require a few tweaks here and there; it requires a new life.
This week has seen the release of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. He had spent more than 1000 days in prison in Iran, sentenced to death for following Christ.
With the words of James ringing in our ears about the importance of what we say, Youcef’s courage in his words, keeping hold of what is important despite the danger that it would, and did, lead to, is a challenge to us all.
Some questions to go away with…
Where, in following Christ, have you had glimpses of the life Jesus talks about?
How can we offer this life to others?
Is it hard for us to recognize this life because life is [relatively] easy for us?