Some of the greatest teachers in my life have been the people who could ask the best questions. Some of these are ... "What is your personal mission?" ... "What would you like written on your epitaph?" But Jesus was the greatest teacher ever, and in the third year of His ministry Jesus travels far north to the headwaters of the Jordan where He and His disciples stop and reflect on some important things. It seems very appropriate to me that Jesus chooses this time for this particular question.
1. There was opposition - The third year of Jesus' ministry was called the year of opposition. Many people left the movement that followed Him. They didn't like the talk of drinking His blood and eating His flesh (John 6:53) ... there were literalists in Jesus day too! They didn't like that the authorities were gunning for Jesus ... they didn't like the risk. They didn't like stories that were confusing ... they weren't willing to go deep into their relationship with Jesus. The time to learn who you really are is when you are facing opposition.
2. There was opportunity - Jesus and the disciples had stopped outside of Caesarea Philippi, a place where they would see lots of sin, lots of temptation and lots of decadence. The time to ask great questions is when you face great struggles.
3. There was openness - When things are getting dicey, it is a great time to sort out who you are, where you are going and who you will follow.
So, as they stop for a breather, Jesus asks the best question ever ... "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say that I am?" (Matthew 16:15). This is a loaded question if ever there was one.
1. "What about you?" This is meant for the group (in the South, "You'all). It is also meant for Peter, the individual (You). On the 1st Sunday of Lent, what about you? As the disciples speculated on what others were saying about Jesus ... as people all around you speculate about Jesus, the Church, faith ... what about you? What about your faith? Who do you believe in? When the bullets start flying and the sky is falling, who/what is your god? Is your god all-sufficient or is you god metal, wood, paper, digital, recreational? What about you?
2. "Who do you say that I am?" Muslims say a great prophet. Mormons say a great person we can attain. Add whatever you want to this. It doesn't matter what others say about Jesus. It matters what YOU believe, because that belief will flow out into how you live life. Here are a few ways I process this question. Is Jesus (to you) who He said He was, or have you tried to create a different reality? How does Jesus fit into your life-priorities? Is Jesus King everyday or does He get placed in one of your compartments?
You see where I am going with this. These are the questions of reflection, self-examination, faith, following and discernment that have, for centuries, been part of the Lenten season. If you want to know something, ask a great question ... and this question is the greatest.