Jesus asked them, “Who do people say I am?” His disciples replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others, Elĳah; still others, one of the prophets.” “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” – Mark 8:27-29
Everyone’s wondering who Jesus is. There are conflicting opinions. But when Jesus asks what his disciples think, Peter doesn’t miss a beat: “I know you! You’re the Messiah!”
It’s an inspired recognition, although amid the growing amazement of adoring crowds, it’s not that wild a conclusion. Peter doesn’t yet grasp that being “Messiah” will take Jesus to bad places.
When that time comes, a shocked Peter lurks in the shadows of the high priest’s courtyard. A servant approaches him with a familiar question, “You know him, don’t you?” Peter doesn’t hesitate this time, either: “No. I don’t know him at all.”
It’s an appalling betrayal, but he’s not really lying.
He can’t place the bloody Jesus across the yard, can’t find the Messiah in him. Peter doesn’t know him. Not this way.
I know what that’s like. Sometimes I know who Jesus is; sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I see God in him; sometimes I’m doubtful. Sometimes he makes sense to me; sometimes he’s a riddle. Sometimes I own up to him proudly; sometimes my shocked heart lurks in shadowed courtyards, refusing all connection to the sharpness of his shame.
The saving grace in my vacillation about Jesus is Jesus himself. I don’t always know who he is, but I’m convinced he always knows me. It’s precisely in my incoherent belief, my variable allegiance, my inconsistent perceptions, and my flickering courage that he recognizes me unfailingly: I am a meandering lamb. His lamb. He calls me by name.
Who do I say you are? It depends on the day, dear Jesus. But please don’t ever stop asking. And don’t ever forget my name.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.