Jesus asks Peter: Who do you say I am? Peter answers: You are the Messiah, the son of the living God! Good answer.
It seems to me that there are several ways that people attempt to answer this fundamental question. I’m going to attempt to summarize this by creating unfair stereotype-based categories.
This Jesus is hip. He walked around Galilee sportin’ Hebraic dreds and eating mysterious-yet-kosher plants that gave him moments of groovy wisdom. “Man, you should totally give stuff to the poor, bro.” “Those religious leaders are just a bunch of squares.”
And yes, Paul was being quite literal when he invited us to take the fragrance of Christ wherever we go. This is because Jesus didn’t wear antiperspirant. Not because it was unavailable in the first century, but because it’s bad for mother earth. And the only reason Jesus was cool with Mary Magdalene pouring that perfume on him was because it was certified organic. Jesus smelt just better than the one who “dealt.”
Jesus walked and talked like a miracle man. His presence made people feel as though they were healed and so folks started telling stories as if he actually had magical powers. These healing abilities even helped him out when he was crucified – for sticking it to the “man” I might add – so that after he was buried in the ground it was like he had healed himself through his legacy. This healing was the memory of his unorthodox life that continues to inspire the inner spirit of many people today.
This Jesus was all man all the time – wild at heart, some might even say. This kind of Jesus could kick some @$$. When he was P.O.’d, he’d crack a whip. He was rugged, smelt of B.O. from working a job in construction, and man-ish to the extreme. This is the guy you would want in your corner during a tag-team Ultimate Fighting Match.
Lest we get too close to heresy, let’s remember that this manly man also walked on water, healed people, died a penal substitutionary death on a cross, and resurrected – all to prove that he is in fact God (just to be clear, the second person of the Divine Godhead).
And as for teaching – well, he had that one saying: “the poor will always be with you.” Never mind that the “you” was directed at specific people in the first century, but apparently these poor people will *in all places and at all times* be with “you” and so don’t waste too much time fighting poverty. (Question: Are these same poor people from Jesus’ day still around and if so, are they immortal?) The goal of the game: sinner’s prayers recited, even if the pagan turned sanctified saint never becomes part of a community of faith. After all, “once saved always saved!”
The only important teachings we need to remember are: 1) don’t drink alcohol (after all, our Lord turned water into grape juice), 2) don’t dance (or rather, remember that sex leads to dancing [I may have that bit mixed up]), 3) don’t have sex unless you plan to pro-create, 4) don’t vote for a democrat, and 5) kill, kill, kill all who oppose the USA or Israel. Every other teaching in the Gospels yields commentary on these five areas.
Hyper-Fundamentalist JesusThis Jesus is the conservative Jesus after drinking several gallons of Hater-aide. He likes to blow sh!+ up… literally. Abortion clinic… caplow! HIV / AIDS hospital… deleted via homemade pipe bomb put together by a dude named Cletus (the only thing he learned from Chemistry class). Looks more like the unabomber and less like the peace-filled Jesus of the Gospels.
Ok, not every fundy blows stuff up. Lots of them, picket at inappropriate places and times. Billy Graham… boycotted. Gay pride parade… attended by fundy men (certainly not those who are insecure about their masculinity… not at all) to hold signs: “Jesus hates f@g$” and “f@g$ die God laughs.” Still wondering how a Jesus who identified with the marginalized in society would hold up signs like this? Well, so am I.
Yes, you guessed it: Jesus is your homeboy. He’s a hipster who wants to “kick it” with you. He walked around two thousand years ago and tried to show people a good time. When you feel down, his goal is to give you a hug of optimism. When times are tough, he’s conveniently the name that you can call upon (sometimes via the curse word) to make sure everything is gonna be alright. When times are good, he’ll keep his distance and not interfere with our pagan-esque sex drive, materialism, and occasional “puff of the magic dragon.” Besides, Jesus exists to make sure we’re all happy campers, right?
The Jesus I know from the New Testament and by the work of the Holy Spirit, doesn’t fit any of these labels. He’s not a liberal, conservative, hyper-fundy, or pop Jesus. He is King Jesus.
King Jesus, the one who arrived as the resolution to the broken story of Israel, is God come in the flesh. In fact, when we look at Jesus Christ, all of the confusing images of God from the past come into perfect focus. Jesus is the image of the invisible God. Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom of God had, is, and will come on earth as it is in heaven. This kingdom is what the world looks like when God is king. The poor are made rich, the lowly are raised up, the powers of evil are defeated, oppressive rulers are dethroned, humans are made whole as their alienation from God is breached, people create Holy Spirit guided missional communities, and all things become new.
The life of King Jesus demonstrates what it looks like to be fully human. The death of King Jesus shows us how to expose the powers and authorities for what they are – parodies, and how sin is ultimately dealt with – Calvary shaped love. The resurrection of King Jesus shows us that the new creation kingdom of God was inaugurated, opening fresh possibilities for the people of God to join in the mission of God for the sake of the whole world. Jesus is king, and to this king we must give our undivided allegiance – against all others.
This is how I begin to answer Jesus’ question: Who do you say that I am?