Sermon at St Magnus 27th August
Last week we noticed the important differences between the Pharisees, Scribe and Sadducees, and how it is quite misleading to lump them all together.
We noted that the Pharisees loved discussion and questions as a way of understanding things and that Some scholars have suggested that Jesus was a Pharisee himself.
Today we have a good example of Pharisaical practice in Jesus as he has a number of interesting questions to put before the disciples in order for understanding to be gained.
The first question is, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
This is closely followed by “who do you say that I am”?
Who or what is the Son of Man? The phrase is used 81 times. It is an Aramaic phrase and it is not easy to translate its meaning into Greek (The language of the New Testament). Most of the time “The Son of man” is another way of saying simply “I”. Jesus used it I this way frequently.
The Son of Man was a way of describing simply “human man” I am a son of Man distinguishing from Son of God.
It is perhaps important and interesting that Jesus never identifies himself as the Son of God. It is also important to distinguish between the phrase Son of God and God’s son. God’s Son is what we generally speak of as if describing the second person of the Trinity, and Son of God is a term often used in the Bible to speak about someone who has shown special characteristics or particular facets of holiness etc.
It is interesting after reading today’s Gospel reading that elsewhere when Jesus is directly asked if he is the Messiah at his trial, he replies in fact that he is the Son of Man rather than messiah.
But to make things a little more complicated this “Son of Man” Jesus aligns himself with is the one adopted from the Book of Daniel when we read “Behold one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the ancient of days (in other words “God”) We also read this in the Book of Revelation too.
It seems likely that Jesus saw himself much more aligned with this Son of man character and was happy to see himself so aligned. The figure appointed by God to restore Israel to its former glory and to install the Kingdom of heaven.
There had of course been other contenders as to who this Son of Man was and Jesus teases these thoughts out in our reading today.
But then we get a similar question . “Who do people say I am?”
If you remember that Son of Man was often another way of saying “I” then it could be that Jesus asks the same question again. Don’t forget some had already thought that Elijah had returned in the person of Jesus and would therefore be restoring the Kingdom of Heaven.
For Matthew this is an important opportunity to put into the mouth of Peter the famous answer he gives “You are the Messiah” and Jesus affirmation of this response of Peter.
Matthew was writing don’t forget after 70AD, an important turning point for the society of the day and especially the church as it was now ploughing definitely its own furrow without being in the shadow of the Temple and Judaism.
Matthew also has that addition about baptizing man in the name of …. At the end of his gospel showing how “church” orientated his gospel is.
We must be aware of the context of the passages we read. For me this makes sense.
Jesus asks his disciples Who do people say I am? He may well ask us the same question today…. Who do people today think Jesus is?
The answer we give is as important as the one we hear Peter give….. and we may hear Jesus responding too, bestowing on us important tools of forgiveness and healing. There is certainly reasonable evidence that the church still offers healing and wholeness to people… I hope!
In our world today the identity of Jesus is still being debated. An ill-considered answer on our behalf is not likely to be helpful. People really do want to know more about him and what he means. People are still drawn to him and we are where they come for information.
If it is the case, as we believe, that we today are the Body of Christ, then Jesus will be judged by how people see his Body active today the answer we give therefore is also the answer we represent..
Jesus is asking us today Who do people say that I am? How are the world seeing me, what might they be wondering?
Who do people say the Son of Man is are we able to say and show that we believe the Son of Man is the Jesus we worship.