‘Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, who do people say that the Son of Man is? And they said “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” ‘ Matthew 16 vv13-16.
This was the Gospel Reading for 23rdAugust, 11th Sunday after Trinity; it was followed be an excellent and thought-provoking sermon which asked us to consider who we think Jesus is. I have been thinking about it ever since!
The New Testament is the primary source of our knowledge and understanding of Christology, the identity of Jesus. Even in the short extract above, three of Jesus most usual ‘titles’ are mentioned, Son of Man, Son of God and Messiah – he is also called The Christ, Lord, and God Himself. I thought it would be interesting to look at each of the titles in turn to see if it helps our understanding of ‘who Jesus is’
The title ‘Messiah’ is perhaps one of the most familiar titles of Jesus, but what does it really mean. It links with the Greek word ‘Christos’, with the root meaning of ‘one who has been anointed’. The Jews of the Old Testament were waiting for the Messiah, one who would come from God as a great leader to restore their fortunes and throw off their political oppressors. He would be a kind of Super-King, to rival even the great King David. In the passage from Matthew, above, Peter describes Jesus as the Messiah – even though Jesus never used the title of himself and preferred his disciples not to use it.
In his life, Jesus did not fit the description of a Super-King, or a political warrior – far from it. For many first century Christians, however, Jesus was the promised Messiah, sent from God – and certainly, in many of his actions he challenged authority and overturned existing social orders. For us, in our time, the title Messiah refers to a human leader – one anointed by God, but not God himself. So perhaps this title emphasises the humanity of Jesus.
Is it important to our understanding of Jesus to know that he was fully human? I think so. At this time of uncertainty, heightened tensions – even distress – it helps me to know that Jesus knew what it was like to be fully human. He knew the joys of life, and the sorrows, just as we do – and he understands.