It’s that time of year again, when teachers and students alike leave behind the lazy days of summer. With pencils sharpened, lesson plans ready, backpacks packed and ready to go, schools will soon be bustling with activity. The collective sense of excitement among the students, is often tinged with a sense of dread. What will my teachers be like? Will my friends have the same lunch as I do? Where’s my next classroom?
But all of these questions and anxieties are nothing compared to that one dreaded instrument of scholastic torture: the pop quiz. Seriously, for all those teachers out there, you do realize that the pop quiz is the single most feared phrase among your students?
For the students, the hand-wringing comes because they want to know the right answer. Really, when it comes down to it, the question doesn’t matter; it’s all about having the right answer. Because, come on, who cheats on a pop quiz to find out what the right question is? For students, it’s all about the end result, the answer.
Teachers, however, understand that the real point of the pop quiz is to ask certain questions. When teachers ask a question, the hope is that they get a student’s mind working toward the right goal. For them, the pop quiz is not so much about checking to make sure the students know the right answer – it’s about an opportunity to ask the right questions.
Jesus takes an opportunity to ask some serious questions of his disciples. “Who do the crowds say that I am?” We can sense a collective shrug of the disciples’ shoulders: “John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah.” But then comes the real kicker, “who do you say that I am?” Peter is that bratty teachers’ pet, he sticks his arm up in the air and immediately blurts out an answer: “You’re the Messiah! The Son of the Living God!” Well done Peter. You get a gold star.
Instead of jumping to hasty answers like Peter, we need to sit back for a moment, and dwell on the question. “Who do you say that I am?” In my own personal spirituality, the answer to that question has been wide and varied as I have matured in my faith. At one point, I was afraid of Jesus. For me, he was the big scary dude on a throne who would judge me at my death. Later, I would have answered that Jesus was my companion, a divine brother who helped me on my way toward God. Right now, when in my prayers Jesus asks me, “who do you say that I am?” I answer: you are the Lord. You are the king and the ruler of all creation. You are God’s anointed one, who breaks down death because you are the living God.
My answer to that question has changed. But what remains the same is the question. I believe that my answers to that question have changed simply because Jesus is a problem, and he knows it. Jesus is problematic because he demands that we follow him and that we sacrifice ourselves. Jesus is problematic because it is far easier to say that he is a lunatic, rather than our Lord. Don’t jump to a hasty answer and simply mimic Peter. Sit with that question – Who do you say that Jesus is?
Our whole lives hinge on that answer to that question. We can choose to call Jesus something else, but then we die. Or we can choose to call Jesus the Son of the Living God, and lose our lives for his sake. You see, Jesus is a problem. But along with that problem, comes a blessing. When Peter responds with an answer, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, Jesus gives to Peter an unimaginable blessing – the authority to teach the Church. Peter is recognized as this symbol of authority, the one disciple who has the power to teach in the Lord’s name. But this authority and power is not given to Peter simply because he is Peter. Peter only receives this power because of his answer, because of his faith. When we answer that question, when we acclaim Jesus Christ as the Lord, the son of the living God, we too are given that authority, and that power. Once we have that first answer right, all the rest of it just falls into place.
This means that each one of you has the power and the authority to teach. Each one of you has the power to loosen your tongues and to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. You, though you may not have a seminary degree or have ever read a book of theology, has the power and the authority to tell others about the Son of the Living God. And each one of you has a classroom. You are a teacher in some way. Your students may be your children, your classroom your kitchen table. Your students may be your peers, and your classroom a long dinner. Regardless of where or who you teach, you have the prayers and support of the Church with you.
The Church is not built on Peter because he was Peter. The Church is built on Peter’s answer. And as long as we too acclaim Jesus as Lord, the Church is built on us. This should be unsettling – that those who come after us depend on our teaching. The Church of the next generation is built on what we have to say. We can either loosen our tongues and build the Church, or bind our tongues, and watch the Church crumble.
I believe that we are at a watershed moment in the story of Christianity. Churches are splitting, people are hurting, and yet the Word of God goes unpreached. Many of our friends and our neighbors live for themselves, and in doing so work towards their own destruction. Centuries from now, when dorks like me look back at this time, they will say one of two things. First, they may say that we didn’t seize the opportunity. They will say that we bound our tongues, that we refused to teach. They will say that even though we may have believed that Jesus is the son of the Living God, we didn’t tell anybody about it. They will say that yes, Jesus was a problem, but they couldn’t figure out how to live as if that was a good thing.
Or, years from now, they will look back on us and say that we saw this golden opportunity to spread the good news. That we risked everything. That we loosened our tongues and told everybody we know about Jesus the Messiah. They will say that our friends and neighbors were hurting, that they wanted the Truth, and that we gave it to them. They will say that our children were stronger, more faithful, bolder disciples even though the world was unkind to them. Years from now, they will look back at us, and they will say that we really believed that the gates of Hades will not prevail against what we have to say.
Because what we have to say is healing to this broken world. What we have to teach is that Jesus demands our whole lives, and that’s a good thing. What we have to tell the whole world is that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God in whom there is no death.