15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
This passage from the gospel of Matthew chapter sixteen always challenges me. I can feel my palms sweating and my heart begin to beat a little faster. This is one of those moments between teacher and student where you know the answer is really, really important. Simon Peter answered the question and received a blessing from Jesus.
But in the gospel of Mark, the interaction goes a bit differently:
27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
There is no blessing after Peter identifies Jesus as the Messiah, but rather a stern instruction to keep his identity a secret.
I can remember still the conversation I had when I voiced for the first time to preach and pastor. I can remember the sweaty palms and my racing heart as I tried on the new identity: “I am called to preach. I am a called to pastor.” My call came as a surprise and a relief. When I found space and sanctuary to look deep within and hear the voice that had been calling me for so long, I knew things and I would never be the same. It would take five years after that first timid declaration before I was able to say, ” I am a preacher. I am a pastor.” Still to this day, I hesitate to introduce myself to others as a preacher; knowing that in South Carolina to be a woman and to be a preacher don’t seem to go together; knowing that living into my calling and my very identity means creating theological crises for friends and family who had been taught that women were never called to preach and teach.
So to those of you struggling to live into who are called to be and timidly trying out those identities on a few close friends asking them to keep quiet about who you are, know that you are not alone. Jesus asked his friends to keep it a secret too. Jesus knew that living fully into who he was called to be would create ripples in his family, in his culture, and in his religion.
And to those of you ready to declare who are you, know that living into your identity is a blessing to your friends, to your family, to your culture, and yes to your religion, even if your identity presents a theological crisis to those communities. It isn’t until we are challenged that we grow. It isn’t until we see and hear someone living fully into their own identity that we get the courage to declare who we are.