Sunday, September 3, 2023
I have had an atheist tell me, “I can’t believe that Jesus walked on water. That’s just impossible,” and so, he doesn’t believe in God. I think this is a common issue with a lot of people today who struggle to reconcile belief in miracles with science. That is probably a sermon for another time. Because while some of us struggle to believe that a human being like Jesus could be God, I think it is equally true that it is a struggle to believe that the Son of God could be a human being.
This is certainly the struggle for Peter, as well as some of the other disciples, I’m sure. They were already convinced as we heard last week that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. They witnessed his miracles first-hand including walking on water! But now their joy that the Messiah the Son of God has come to rescue the people of God has a sharp reality check: “Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Jesus, the Son of God, God’s anointed one, will save us through dying. He will give us life through losing his life, and what’s more, he calls his followers to do the same – to deny ourselves, take up the cross, and follow. Whoever wants to save their life will lose it; those who lose their lives for Jesus’ sake will find it.
These are tough words. Once again we are right there with Peter in struggling to understand. Who is Jesus, really, versus who we have hoped or imagined he would be for us? How often do we try to make Jesus into who WE want him to be? How quickly we focus on human things rather than divine things, because we ARE human after all. When we are going through a difficult time, we desperately cry out for a miracle and then blame him when things don’t turn out how we want. When we hear about Jesus as judge, as we hear toward the end of our gospel for today, it’s easy, even delightful, dare we say, to imagine him judging the people who clearly deserve punishment and retribution in our eyes; it’s way less pleasant to recognize he comes to judge all of us, including ourselves, the living and the dead as we say in our Creed. When we pray, I don’t think I’m alone in preferring to Jesus as a glowing, powerful figure sitting on a throne at the right hand of God. Today’s gospel reminds us unpleasantly that Jesus is also the suffering servant taking his last breaths on the cross, experiencing sorrow, fear and pain like all of us fellow human beings do. “God forbid it, Lord,” we say along with Peter. “This must never happen to you.” But it does – for our sakes.
For the last few weeks, we have unpacked what it means for Jesus to be the Son of God, Lord, and Messiah, the Christ (remember that Messiah and Christ are the same words in Hebrew and Greek respectively). Now we come to what it means to call Jesus the Son of Man, and in particular, what it means for Jesus to be human like us. The title in Hebrew simply is “Ben Adam:” “Son of Humanity” or from Genesis, “child of Adam,” who would be all of us human beings. Jesus is one of us. God the Father intentionally sends Jesus to be born of a human mother and be fully human as one of us, just as he is fully divine. We, like Peter, struggle to understand.
Declaring yourself to be the Son of Man like Jesus does, however, carries another connotation as well, however. From the prophet Daniel, chapter seven, some in first century Judaism understood that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecy that would be the deliverer and judge at the end of time as a messianic figure. Jesus alludes to this at the end of our gospel for today. In calling himself the Son of Man, Jesus is talking about God’s incarnational human presence as he walks among us, his ability to suffer, die and be raised as a human being, AND the promise of his coming again. God saves us through not just the divine power but also the fully human Jesus. This may be more difficult to believe than the Son of God walking on water!
And yet, as we learn to recognize Jesus as both Son of God and Son of Man along with Peter and the other followers of Christ throughout history, we discover it’s not about who we want Jesus to be, making him in our own image, but rather how Jesus has come to make us into who he wants us to be. Martin Luther talked about being little Christs to one another. That because God dwells in a human being, Christ can also live through us. In seeking to follow him more closely, learning about him, growing in deeper relationship with him AND in being relationship with other people of faith, we become more like him. Our default is to ask, “Who is Jesus for me?” But a better question is, “Who does Jesus want me to be, for him?” The answer may not be easy, as we hear Jesus ask us to not hold on so tightly to the values of this world – our comfort, success, possessions, time, and so on. But in following him, we start to see that the cross – death – is not the end of our lives but a new beginning, not something to be feared, but something to embrace as the life that really is life.
Thanks be to God, God sends his only begotten Son Jesus the Christ, our Lord, the Son of God to be the Son of Man, the child of all humanity, so that in sharing humanity with us we learn how to be better humans, and in his divine power he saves us, because we cannot save ourselves. Amen.