We had seen a lot. And, to be honest, it was overwhelming for many of us. My group of high schoolers and adults on mission in Ecuador had been totally immersed in abject poverty where we witnessed a particular population’s incredibly challenging reality. The group had also witnessed the profound faith and commitment of those who felt called to serve and love in this context.
Peter had seen a lot. The disciples, too, for that matter. I imagine it was overwhelming. Crowds of people: the poor, hungry, sick, destitute, oppressed, and marginalized. Scenes describe these crowds as swamping homes and towns, the people crushing in, hoping beyond hope, grasping with faith. Peter and the disciples witnessed miracles, healings, a stunning amount of food, mercy, grace, profound teaching, and transformative love.
Every night, at the end of these difficult and holy days, we would circle up and reflect on our experiences. Our missionaries would guide our reflections with thoughtful questions and prayerful prompts. One night, we were asked something along the lines of: “What did you learn today about what it means to follow Jesus?” There were lots of thoughts around gratitude. Many noted the faith and apparent joy of those we encountered. Towards the end, one older high school girl pondered, “Honestly, I’m not sure I really know what it means to follow Jesus.”
I think we each heard her reflection differently. Her statement spoke a deeper truth, regardless of what she meant by it exactly. She named the complexity of the life of in the way of Jesus, the complexity of loving people in difficult and desperate circumstances. At a more foundational level, she named the complexity of simply loving people. It was not a crisis of faith. I instead perceived it as a statement of wonder.
“But who do you say that I am?” When Jesus poses this question to the disciples, it seems to me that Peter responds with wonder. He and the disciples had stepped into this threshold in which they are seeing the fullness of God in the life of a person. This was preposterous. Ridiculously absurd. And yet…there was God in Christ right before Peter. To see the life and fullness of God in this moment was a gift of grace.
I think my youth, and the adults even, were stunned to find God in such desperate and difficult circumstances. Ridiculous. Preposterous. And yet…there God was. To see the presence of God in any moment is a gift of grace. To see the presence, the love and hope, of God in those particular situations was a gift of grace beyond anything we could have imagined before those experiences.
In 2008, at my first training meeting with the Diocesan Youth Leadership Committee for Upper SC, a question was posed to all the youth and adults present: Who is Jesus to you? I’m not sure if I had ever been asked that question in that way before then. We weren’t without some anxious nerves, but from the simple to the moving, it was beautiful and inspiring, contagious even.
In more recent years, I have had the privilege of asking this same question of those discerning a call to holy orders in the church. It is often the first question asked, “Who is Jesus to you?” I try to listen with an ear attuned to wonder. We have all seen so much, the tension between brokenness and the miraculous. Can we even wrap our minds around it all? Can we make sense of it all?
When have you witnessed the movement or presence of God in such a way that you were astonished, dumbstruck with wonder? Sometimes, when we reflect on those moments when we find ourselves in the presence of Jesus, it is almost as if he turns to us and asks, “But who do you say that I am?”
And so, my friends, I wonder: Who is Jesus to you?
Almighty Father, who inspired Simon Peter, first among the apostles, to confess Jesus as Messiah and Son of the living God: Keep your Church steadfast upon the rock of this faith, so that in unity and peace we may proclaim the one truth and follow the one Lord, our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
[Image Credit: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons, Collect used with permission from the General Convention office of the Episcopal Church]