Today our New Testament Challenge brings us to the heart of the Gospel of Mark. Our Lord throws a question at the disciples and at us, a challenge to our preconceptions:

27 Now Jesus and His disciples went out to the towns of Caesarea Philippi; and on the road He asked His disciples, saying to them, “Who do men say that I am?” 28 So they answered, “John the Baptist; but some say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ.”

What do people say about Christ? Who is he for most people. We could probably boil the opinions down to three.

Some people think of Jesus as a good man, a great teacher, someone right up there with Buddha, Confucius, and other great religious teachers. He had some great things to say and gave us a wonderful example of a good life style.

Some people think of Jesus as some sort of cosmic spirit, a heavenly Pez dispenser of good things, a vague personification of morality, a supporter of political causes, whether on the right or on the left.

Some people think that Jesus never existed, was invented by the early Christians or by St. Paul, or even was the tranformation of a pagan god like Dionysos or Herakles.

This is the atmosphere that we live and work. Our families, our fellow students or workers probably believe some variation (or even combination) of these beliefs. In fact, many of our Orthodox faithful have bought into a version of these beliefs.

But our Lord’s question rings in our ears like a challenge: Who do YOU say that I am? Where is your faith? Do you even know me? Are you going to decide who I am without ever talking or walking with me?

Peter answers for all the disciples, “You are the Christ,” that is, the Messiah, the Anointed of God. They have finally reached a new level. Our Lord had been teaching them, showing them miracles which revealed the presence of the Kingdom of God breaking into history. And they did not seem to get it. But when our Lord revealed to them that he would suffer and die in Jerusalem, and then rise from the dead, they could not accept it; they were unwilling to take that next step with our Lord. For the disciples, as for all pious Jews of that time, a dead Messiah was no Messiah at all. They had heard about too many men who claimed to be the Messiah and who were put to death by the Romans and their movement came to an abrupt end. They were not ready to adjust their definition of Messiah to include the idea of victory in defeat, of life in death, of the overcoming of death by crashing down the gates of death and empyting the tombs.

Very often we smugly smirk at the scene of poor Peter trying to convince our Lord not to go to his death. We have the advantage of hindsight (always 20/20!); we know the end of the story. And yet, if we had to stand in Peter’s shoes, would we have reacted in the same way, with the same lack of understanding? Do we ourselves really understand the implications of what our Lord is saying? Do we really know who he is, or do we only still have a Sunday School understanding of who he is?

How can we grow beyond that limited understanding? First of all, we need to meet with our Lord, to talk with him, to walk with him, to learn to love and trust him. That is prayer. Have you ever been with someone you love, a spouse or a friend, and just sat together in silence for a while, a silence that speaks far more than words? That is what prayer is like. Our problem with prayer is not that we do not want to do it, but that we think we have to have a constant monologue going. Place yourself in the presence of your Lord, even for a few moments, and just enjoy being with him in silence.

Secondly, we can meet our Lord in the Liturgy and especially in Holy Communion. Our resurrected and living Lord comes in our midst when we gather to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. If we approach the Liturgy as enfolding us in divine love rather than simply an obligation or something that gives us an hour and a half rest from the kids, then our heart will be touched by our Lord, and he will speak to us in the depths of our being.

Who do YOU say that I am? That is the challenge of our Challenge today. And it is the work of a lifetime to begin to approach an answer to the question.