Who is Jesus for You Today?
Imagine Jesus coming to you today. He looks you in the eye and asks, “Who do you say that I am?” What pops into your mind? Son of God? Prophet? Savior? Martyr? Miracle worker? Myth?
In Mark 8:27-35, when Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter rushed in with an impressive answer. “You are the Messiah!” But it’s clear from what happens next that spewing religious-sounding titles was insufficient. Jesus and Peter carried vastly different interpretations about the job description for the messiah.
When we answer the question about who Jesus is, we know there’s got to be something more than throwing around theological titles that we don’t fully comprehend. Besides, what good is that for our lives? What matters is not how other people understand Jesus. What matters is how you think of things and the impact that makes on your life. Think deeply about who Jesus is to you at this stage of your life. How do his message and life apply to your situation right now? At different times of our lives, we need to find the attributes of Jesus that are most relevant to our experiences.
Jesus as Savior. But Saved from what, and for what?
Take, for example, the title of “savior.” Jesus is often presented as the one who just came to die for us, and his death is the only important thing. This is foreign to the gospels that say we need to pay attention to the whole picture of who he was. The gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) weren’t so much to get people to worship Jesus but to get them to follow his example and become part of his movement for peace and wholeness and reconciliation justice this world. Jesus’ life matters. The world is saved when people practice better ways of living that Jesus taught and modeled.
Jesus advocated for a better way of living.
The early Christians weren’t even called Christians, but “People of the Way.” The way of Jesus. A clergy friend says,
“I don’t know about all that theology stuff. I can’t explain if Jesus is both God and human or what the trinity is, or what I believe about life after death. For all, I know there may not be a God. But what I do know is this: Even if all the theology part is bunk, it’s still not a bad way to live. It’s a good way to live, the way I choose. The way of love, the way of peace, the way of generosity, the way of having the humility to know it doesn’t revolve around me, the way of connecting with other people who are struggling to make things better for themselves and others.”
So who was this Jesus? What was this “way” of his?
Jesus was a social reformer and prophet
Jesus was not so much someone who predicted the future but one who stood in the line of Jewish prophets who said God despises religiosity that turns a blind to impoverished and marginalized people. He went head-to-head, defying the religious authorities who made people feel excluded and worthless.
He issued a scathing critique of the social, religious, and political injustices of his day.
Jesus was no wimp.
In the way, he is often portrayed, Jesus comes off as a wimp, passive, weak. He seems like an easy-going dude that no one would ever want to kill. But he was “tough as nails.” He stood up to the powers and didn’t back down. He threw the money-changers out of the temple. He knew when you rise against the forces of domination in this world. There are often violent consequences. He talked of his death as a sacrifice one makes for a cause he believes in more than an expiation for your sins. He believed that even though he would die, God would vindicate his ministry, and ultimately the ways of love and compassion and peace will prevail.
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and many other people saw Jesus as an advocate for justice. This advocacy stands up or the oppressed despite the risks. Calls for reform and justice are always met with resistance.
Jesus led a movement to create an alternative to the meanness of the world.
He created an alternative, countercultural community, made up of imperfect people who committed themselves to this way of love, inclusion, and justice. That’s what we are called to be a people who care for each other, who welcome everyone, who all try to get better and in line with God’s purposes for the world. A place of healing, teaching, and outreach, support for this mission.
Christian author and speaker Tony Campolo tells a story from when his wife, Peggy, was at home full-time with their children. When someone would ask, “And what is it that you do, dear?” Peggy would reply, “I am socializing two homo sapiens into the dominant values of the Judeo-Christian tradition in order that they might be instruments for the transformation of the social order into the kind of eschatological utopia that God willed from the beginning of creation.”
Jesus was a teacher.
He taught us to love our enemies, forgive those who harmed us, show compassion to the least, and lost. Jesus hung out with the so-called scumbags of his day. His disciples included stinky fishers and tax collectors, and he befriended prostitutes and lepers. He demonstrated radical inclusiveness that broke all the barriers of race, religion, and social status.
His primary teaching focused on the kingdom of God. And the kingdom of God was not so much about heaven after we die, but about how this world could work if we practiced radical inclusion,
The forgiveness of each other. Jesus invited us into imagining a world of compassion, of peacemaking. It was a kingdom of justice where everyone had enough.
Maybe for you today, you need Jesus, the teacher. To see how your life could be and how to align yourself with the things that make for an abundant, meaningful life. He was the Lord of another chance. Not condemning the past but looking for ways to create a new start no matter what.
Jesus was a healer and miracle worker.
For the most part, miracle stories are told like children’s object lessons to underscore a larger point. For example, at a time when people are worried that God’s blessings had run dry, Jesus turns water into wine at a wedding. Just like we still lift a glass at weddings, the wine was a symbol of blessing. Jesus turned not just a little water into wine, but 180 gallons after the party had already consumed everything they could find. It’s a sign that God was still active and doesn’t dispense blessings by teeny eye-droppers full but produces a super-abundance
Another quick example. Jesus accused the disciples of spiritual blindness and deafness. The next thing you know, he heals a blind guy and then a deaf guy to say: your spiritual healing is possible. The point wasn’t to come away saying: “Wow, isn’t Jesus cool and supernatural that he can do this stuff.” The end was to reinforce his lesson.
Does Jesus still do miracles?
Yet, it’s hard to know what to do with this. We don’t have anyone running around like that today. So it’s tempting to discount it. Yet we know there are still great mysteries about how the mind and body work together. Just look at the placebo effect and how many people get better only from taking a sugar pill because they believe it is doing good. How do we account for so many people who report they have experienced healings that defy all odds? Sometimes if we get right in mind and spirit, the cells that make us up seem more open for change. A humble heart acknowledges some mysteries are beyond us, and no one has it all figured out.
An essential component of understanding Jesus’ healings is to realize that Jesus healed people from social isolation. Diseased people were excluded from many aspects of communal life.
Religious authorities taught that God caused sickness as a form of punishment for sin. In effect, Jesus was saying “Hogwash” to all that. In the healings, the ill are “made whole.” That is, the healing was more then what happened with their bodies; they found healing for their status as participants in the community. For more about healing click here.
How we define “healing” changes with circumstances.
A woman dying of cancer told me: First, I prayed for healing my cancer, meaning I thought it would go away. It didn’t. Then I understood healing meant being at peace with my life, even my failures. Next, it meant healing some of the harm I’d done in relationships along the way and reconciling. And now healing means death, release from the suffering and pain, and trusting in something beyond. She said she learned that God heals, sometimes it’s physical, most of the time it’s something else, something more substantial.
Maybe today for you, it’s the healing Jesus you need. The one who points you in the direction of getting your attitude and relationships right.
Jesus is a spiritual guide.
On Sabbath, he worshipped in a synagogue. He developed an intense prayer life, often disappearing from everyone, even though they needed him. He’d pray then reconnect with people. It’s like what they say about the oxygen masks on the plane. You’ve got to put yours on first if you are going to be of any help to anyone else.”You’ve got to tend to your spiritual needs, making it a priority if you are ever going to be any good to anyone.
He experienced God not as a remote immovable force in his prayer life, but as a loving presence. He called Abba. And he taught us to pray to this Abba for daily bread, not surplus, but what we need for the day, the moment. He taught us to pray that we might be led away from temptations and forgive others to the degree that we want to be forgiven.
He embodied spirituality of gratitude for trusting in God to provide. “Don’t worry,” he said. God is looking out after you. Count your blessings. It was a spirituality rooted in nature. Consider the lilies. Consider the birds of the air.
Maybe for you today, Jesus needs to be your guide, to help you in your spiritual journey. To learn to lean on something outside of yourself and within yourself.
Who is Jesus for you today? Maybe more than you ever imagined.
By Rev. Dr. David Clark, Senior Pastor Bay Shore Community Congregational Church (UCC) in Long Beach, California.