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who-do-you-say-i-am_std_t_nvSometimes over-familiar bible passages throw out a surprise. Today’s text  from Mark’s Gospel follows the meme we grew up calling the “Good Confession.” Jesus asks his disciples “Who do you say I am?” and Peter makes the “good confession” – “You are the Messiah [Christ].”

The surprise is being asked to consider whether we are to understand this exchange as Jesus testing his disciples to see whether they’ve “got it” yet, or whether he was seeking affirmation for himself.

In this modern era, the expectation is that we are creators of our own destinies, highlighting the freedom of the individual to pick and choose their path.

In previous days, one’s identity was formed primarily by their extended family, or tribe, or cultural group. The ascendancy of the concept of the individual is a much later thing. This cast’s Jesus two questions “Who do people say I am?” and “Who do you say I am?” in a much different light. It increases our awareness of his vulnerability. He is reliant on those around him, those who have become part of his following, to grant him his identity. We are in the part of Mark’s Gospel where he has firmly established himself as a well known public figure whose message is in direct contradiction of that of the Empire.

For him to carry this consciousness through to its costly conclusion requires an affirmation from beyond his inner awareness. Peter supplies it.

Once Peter realises the implications and the cost and tries to divert Jesus from his course, Jesus rebukes him. The power of recognition in the words “You are the Christ” is too strong to resist.

We should think twice before making the “Good Confession,” for once uttered it can’t be taken back without great cost, and once uttered it requires great cost to follow through.