(Interestingly, as Mark tells the story Jesus seems to be less than impressed with Peter's reply. In Matthew Peter is praised but here Jesus tells them not to repeat that anywhere.)
But here is the real kicker. We still have to answer this question. One of the reasons we retell the stories of the Scriptures is to see where they intersect with our lives in the here and now. And this story intersects with our faith lives at the most basic level.
One of (some would say THE) defining marks of Christian faith is that we have to take the Jesus story seriously. To be a Christian means making a statement about who and what Jesus was and is. And we are encouraged to find our personal answer. It isn't enough to simply recite the teaching of the church by rote. Our answer to Jesus' question has to have meaning for us.
It has been suggested that if Peter was a modern Jesus Scholar the discussion in today's story would have gone like this:
Jesus said, "Who do they say that I am." They replied, some say Elijah, some John the Baptist, others one of the prophets." And he said, but who do YOU say that I am?" Peter answered, "You are the ground of our being, the ontological kerygma in which we find the ultimate meaning of our interpersonal relationships." And Jesus said, "...What?" That is our answer but yet it is not our answer.
That answer, when taken apart and translated into English, describes a fairly common picture of who Jesus is for us. But it can't be our answer. For starters, who really talks like that? SO the question remains, how would you respond to Jesus? Who is Jesus for you?
And why does the question matter? Well, as I said already, declaring who Jesus was and is is central to Christian faith. And why is it important to be clear about what we believe? We need to be clear about our faith, or at least have a degree of clarity since faith tends to be a moving target for many of us, because that clarity is a source of strength when the world get rough. If we don't know who Jesus is for us it is that much harder to know who Jesus is when the road of faith takes a dark turn.
Because look what happens right after the question. Jesus talks about the road that leads to cross and grave. Jesus talks about the need for people to take up the cross and follow him. And let's be clear. Jesus isn't talking about our “cross to bear” as some sort of inconvenient disease or hardship like we often do. Jesus is talking about the road of faith being a road that leads to persecution and rejection. Knowing who we are, knowing whose we are, knowing what we believe helps us when the cross comes knocking.
Scholars now tell us that this story probably doesn't come from the life of Jesus. Instead it is probably a post-Easter reconstruction as the disciples strove to understand what had happened. IT isn't a story of identification of a a person – it is a story about confessing the faith. When we make the same sort of claim that Peter makes then we make a statement about to whom we belong. We make a statement about whose side we are on. Such statements are not something we should trust to others. Such statements are something we have to make for ourselves. The faith that has been handed down through centuries of the church helps us find our way, but rote recitation of others words is not enough. Who do you say Jesus is? Whose do you say you are? Who do you say you are?