Summary: A Reflection on the question Jesus asked his disciples... 'who do you say that I am?'.
THE ETERNAL QUESTION... WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?
A friend once asked the famous scientist, Isidor Rabi, who was also a Nobel Prize winner, how he had become a scientist. Rabi replied by relating a story from his childhood. He said that every day after school his mother would talk to him about his day. But she never wanted to know what he had learnt, she only ever inquired, "Did you ask a good question today?" Rabi goes on to say that "Asking good questions made me become a scientist."
Asking good questions is sometimes more important than giving good answers, which is a rather strange and almost laughable thought to our modern western minds, for we are obsessed with knowing and solving and drawing universal fail-proof conclusions, but bear with me for a second on this point, because I believe it is nonetheless true and incredibly important for us to consider the tremendous value of a good question.
In Scripture we see that even God understood the value of a good and probing question. Countless times he asks questions that not only changed the course of a person’s life, but also powerfully echoes even into the present moment and serves to challenge us still.
For example: when Adam and Eve were asked by God, “Where are you?” – a question that still urges us to consider our own place before God and our position in the world; or when God asked Moses, “What do you have in your hand?” – a question that still encourages us to consider the little we have to offer him and the mighty things he can do with it if we did; or what about the time when God asked the prophet, “Whom shall I send?” – a question that still challenges us to respond to the task of taking the Gospel to the world; not to mention that eternally powerful question when God asked Job, “Where were you, when I laid the foundations of the earth...?” – a question that still reminds us to reflect carefully upon God’s sovereignty and wisdom and the humility that should mark our approach to him.
All this indicates that a good and probing question is of equal, if not more, value and importance than a good and reasonable answer.
Today we will spend a few moments reflecting both on a question that is, perhaps, the single most powerful, probing and revealing question ever asked and on a set of answers that illustrates the world’s and our own continuing response to that most disturbing question.
Now I’d imagine that most of you have figured out which question I am referring to already, it doesn’t take the most careful listener or most insightful reader to acknowledge the heavy weight of the question that stands so central to our Gospel reading this morning – a question that we’ve all heard read a million times before... Jesus stands before his disciples and asks them what they, and others, are saying of and thinking of him. (An intriguing question on one level because it so clearly makes him vulnerable, I mean; who of us asks confidently after the opinions that others have of us? But also intriguing because Jesus seems to be asking with a sense of anticipation and hope that, finally, his disciples would have got it.)
“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks in verse 15 of our text from Matthew 16. A question of tremendous power and eternal relevance, a question with far reaching implications, and a question that we have the privilege of reflecting on more carefully today. Which we will do by pointing to two dynamic interactions between Jesus, who asks the question, and those whom he is asking it of. Firstly, the people in general and secondly, the disciples in particular. In the end we will come to see the enduring impact of this question and the incredible importance of making the appropriate response.
But before we go any further, we must point out that we are dealing here with a wonderfully vital text that has been reflected on more often than any other in Matthew’s Gospel and has served the Church well in her endeavour to proclaim truth and find her identity – there are a million things we can say about this text and, no doubt, a hundred different sermons can be preached on as many important lessons to be learnt from it – I am not suggesting that our reflection today will reveal the central theme of this text, nor the singular meaning of it, this is an impossibility – I simply pray that as we reflect on this passage we will discover again that, in it, Jesus asked the most eternal and powerful question ever asked, and that our response to this question is of immeasurable importance. So with that prayer then expressed let’s begin our reflection on the text.