POWER OF WORDS Mark 8:27-38
Have you may have heard of the Wicked Bible? In 1631 the royal printers
published a Bible in which the word “not” was mistakenly left
out of the 7th commandment (the one about adultery). All for want of one
little word the printers were fined £300 and lost their license.
Jesus asks his disciples about the word that might be going round about
him. Who do people say that I am? He asks them. The reason why he asks
them this will become clearer as we go along. Jane Williams imagines all
the talk that the disciples may have been hearing as they went about with
Jesus. Perhaps people asked them many times: “Who is your master?”
After all, we know from the gospel writers that word about Jesus spread
very quickly and many flocked to see him. What do we imagine those words
about Jesus to have been? There might not have been mass media in those
days, but word of mouth has always been part of human society. Who is
your master? What is he really up to? Where does he get his extraordinary
power? Not only do we have to try and imagine a pre-media age, but also
remember that they were living under occupation, suffering at the hands
of a repressive regime, with subterfuge, spying and the occasional uprising,
going on all around them. Whose side are you on? Who are you really working
for? Can we trust you? All of these things might have been flying around
as well. Jesus seemed good, but was he? The religious authorities kept
coming and questioning him and he kept on repelling them. Who is he?
When Jesus asks his disciples about him, perhaps they kept their answers
polite! They don’t say “Some people think you’re mad,
and some people think you’re possessed and some people thing you’re
a revolutionary. They stick to the complimentary and religious responses.
Are they just being kind to Jesus? Maybe – after all they probably
respect him a great deal by now. But also, if they are his followers,
then whatever answer they give him will reflect back on them! They don’t
want to be tarred with the same brush as him. The first question is easy
for them to answer – you can imagine that was a really good ice-breaker:
there’s plenty of chat and the answers come freely and easily. Oh,
some say you’re John the Baptist come back. (That was the haunting
thought Herod had.) Others say, no, much further back: he’s like
a reincarnation of Elijah – that might prophet from our scriptures.
Others don’t think he’s like any one prophetic figure –
but he’s definitely a prophet. Next we see the reason why Jesus
asked his disciples about his identity. He is not asking them what the
public perception of him is. Now he turns the question directly to them:
who do you say I am? He’s not even asking them, “what do you
tell other people when they ask you who I am?” He is asking them
who they think he is because it is a question of commitment. Perhaps the
disciples fell suddenly silent at this point. The easy chat stops. It’s
not a trick question: one of those which you can’t get right whichever
way you answer it. Do you remember the playground quip: “Are you
a PLP?” Rather, it’s a question that is meant to evoke commitment.
It’s more like: “Albert Snodgrass will you take this woman
to be your wife?” “Just give me a moment,” would not
be appropriate at that point in time!
the one that all three synoptic gospel writers tell us was the one to
speak up at this point. He took the plunge – even if he were wrong,
it would show the depth of his commitment to this person, whoever he was.
Maybe that was why Jesus was prepared to give Peter a prominent place
in the community of followers who would grow into the Church. It’s
rather like Peter choosing this particular option and Jesus checks: “Final
answer?” Peter’s response will win or lose him the million
pound prize: “Final answer!” He’s committed.
We are exercised by the problem of large numbers of people wanting to
settle in some parts of Europe. The label “refugee” is a commitment
word, like “you are the Messiah!” To identify someone as a
refugee means that we are obliged to accept them. The UK, along with many
other nations in the world, has signed up to the 1951 UN convention on
refugees. Politicians and journalists seemed to start off using the label
“migrant” as if it were a neutral word. That masked the issue.
Those who are forced to flee their homelands, rather like anyone in difficulties
at sea, should expect a human response – rescue. After all, if it
happened to you or I wouldn’t we expect help in some form or other?
Many people are showing their humanity now and there are so many stories
of ordinary people doing what they can to help.
All of this matters and is significant because we believe in the ultimate
power of God’s word. By his word, God creates and sustains the universe.
We believe in the saving power of the Word made Flesh – Jesus our
Lord. Our words of worship or witness matter. There is a sense in which
we are not only what we might eat, but we become what we say. Out of reverence
for the living Word we watch our own words and we take care how we allow
the words of others to influence us especially if they are commitment
words like “Messiah” or “refugee”!
© Rev Paul Smith.