The Question
Matthew 16:13-17

(C) 2001, Don Mize

A story by Antonio Fins, “Enron pipeline plan draws attention from industry, community,” in the September 2, 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, reported that a federal agency was being bombarded by requests.  Enron had announced plans to build a ninety mile pipeline from the Bahamas to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  Conservationists, public officials, and even others in the industry had questions they wanted answered.

Questions are a part of life, a part of learning, and a part of change.  In Matthew 16:13-17, Jesus asked the most important question you will ever be called upon to answer.

 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philipi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

 “But what about you?” he asked.  “Who do you say I am?”

 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (NIV)

“Who am I?” The question rings down the ages and bounces off eardrums too busy to hear.  Eardrums filled with blaring music.  Eardrums filled with happiness commercials. Eardrums deaf from much hearing of nothingness.

Identity Matters

Identity matters.  If someone steals your identity, you are in trouble. 

Take the case of Carlos Arturo Jimenez.  In a story written by Susan Clary for the Orlando Sentinel on August 31, 2001, she reported how a convicted felon, Juan Jose Rivera, ended up with name, birth date, and Social Security number of Jimenez.  The story was titled, “Someone else’s carelessness can ruin your good name.”  All this happened because Rivera gave a false name when deputy sheriffs took him to the hospital to have his stomach pumped for cocaine.

It seems that Carlos Jimenez is a name as common as John Smith.  Typed into the computer, Carlos Arturo Jimenez’s name, birth date, and Social Security number came up. The real Jimenez ended up with the hospital bill and even the criminal record.

Your identity matters, and identity theft is becoming a serious crime.  Jesus asked an important question when he asked, “Who am I?”  The question is an eternal question.  He is asking you to decide about his identity.

It is a shame we are too busy to hear the question.  Not only is his identity important, but our being able to hear is important.

Being Able to Hear Matters

The importance of being able to hear is highlighted by a story carried by Reuters on August 31, 2001. According to the story, a deaf man spent two years in jail after minor charges against him had been dropped.

All this happened in our nation’s capital of Washington.  Sue Pleming wrote the story, “Deaf Man Wrongly Jailed for Two Years.”  She admitted in the article that the man had a serious mental illness, but she pointed out that was not the reason for the foul up.  The man spent 669 days in a solitary cell in a mental health unit of the city’s jail because his case file had been sent into storage.

He complained on a number of occasions and tried to tell officials he should not be there, but they were deaf in their own way.  They ignored him because he was labeled as mentally ill.  As usual in most jails and prisons, he was receiving no treatment,.

Being able to hear matters, and deafness occurs for many reasons.  The jail personnel were deaf in their own way, not being able to hear the pleadings of a man labeled and properly stored.
But still the question of Jesus echoes in hollow hearts, and the question will be answered if only the answer is “Nothing, nothing at all.”

The Answer Matters

Jean-Paul Sartre in Being & Nothingness defined human existence as being characterized by nothingness.  He meant that human beings have the capacity to negate and rebel. Perhaps he was right.  Without the possibility of saying no, we would not be free to say yes.  Without the possibility of rebelling, we would not be free to choose, to affirm, to love, or to have faith.

Only because you have the freedom to respond, “You are nothing,” are you free  to say, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

Who is this Jesus?  He started by asking his disciples, “Who do others say I am?”  They gave the answers they had heard from others: “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

Today, we may reply that others say you are a good man, a prophet, a hoax, or the Christ.

Today’s Answers

For example, the Taliban in Afghanistan do not agree with Peter’s confession of faith: “you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  In fact, they arrested eight foreign aid workers for attempting to spread Christianity.

In a Associated Press story of August 31, 2001, Kathy Gannon reported on the situation. She said that Western diplomats appealed daily on behalf of the eight foreign aid workers. However, in her story, “Afghan Relatives Appeal for Help,” she pointed out that native Afghans had also been arrested and had disappeared.  They faced the death penalty for converting to Christianity or for attempting to influence others to convert to Christianity.

Meanwhile, armed members of the radical Islamic Taliban militia have closed the offices of two more Christian aid organizations.  Freedom of religion is not tolerated as the Taliban government forces their interpretation of the Islamic faith on the people of Afghanistan.

Today the question Jesus asked those disciples echoes down the centuries to you: “But who do you say that I am?”  No one escapes giving an answer.

Your Answer

Louis Uchitelle wrote a September 3, 2001, story for The New Your Times, “Notions of the New Economy Hinge on the Pace of Productivity Growth.”  The story  reported on the meeting of the annual symposium of Federal Reserve policy makers in the mountain resort of Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  A year before Alan Greenspan opened the meeting with the confident boast that the strong gains in worker productivity would continue and thus the expansion of the economy would continue.

Will computer technology provide the foundation for increased productivity?  Economic prosperity depends on it.

But even questions that affect your job, your paycheck, your taxes, or  your retirement are nothing compared to the question Jesus asks: “Who do you say that I am?”

How Do You Know?

Jesus responded to Simon’s confession of faith by saying, “. . . this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven (v.17 NIV).

My prayer is not that you will be persuaded, but that you will encounter the Living God, that the Father in heaven will reveal to you that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

September 2, 2001

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