This morning we listen again as the Lord Jesus asks Peter, asks each one of us this most compellingly beautiful question: “Who do you say that I am?” Put another way – how do we, how do any of us experience Jesus? Certainly, it is their experience of Christ Jesus that has transformed both Peter and Paul. Who were they after all but both forgiven failures, transformed by Christ in his tender mercy?
Peter tells Jesus he is ready to die with him; then betrays him a few hours later. “I’d know that accent anywhere,” says the maid in the high priest’s courtyard. “You’re one of that Galilean’s followers.” “I don’t who you’re talking about,” mutters Peter. Meanwhile Jesus is right next door being slapped and spat upon. But Jesus will welcome and forgive Peter by another charcoal fire at a seaside breakfast after his Resurrection, allowing Peter to say, “Lord, you know well that I love you.”
And Paul so well-schooled in the Law, so sure he’s got all the answers; he has been tracking down followers of Jesus the blasphemer. As Peter has crashed into self-knowledge making Jesus’ prediction of betrayal come true; Paul will be knocked off his horse, insisting that he does not even know who Jesus is. Jesus assures him, “I am Jesus the one you’ve been persecuting.”
Both saints have experienced Christ Jesus’ transforming presence. They come to us this morning with nothing to boast about. Both are forgiven witnesses to the reality of the transforming power of Jesus’ relentless pursuit, Jesus’ absolute refusal to reject any sinner, always drawing us, bringing us back to the Father, reminding us that we are meant for transcendence, for connectedness with this divine Other. It is this experience of him that transforms.
And, each of us, who do we say that Jesus is? Who is Jesus for you,? How do we name him? How has he touched you in a way that is perhaps at the same time somehow unutterable and so undeniably real that we have dared to stake our lives on in it. One thing is clear, this experience of relationship with God is unassailable, not simply subjective, romantic musing but very real and grounded in our experience. No one can talk us out of it. We know Jesus has called, has spoken, and still speaks, acts in us, through us, with us. For through his Spirit, he is no longer Palestine-bound but all around us, here, always.
Like Peter and Paul, we too have seen and touched him. We know his name. Recall your own experience, his action and his real presence in your life. Does it ground your faith? Who do you say that He is for you? Where have you seen and touched him so that now you can name him?