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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Who do you say that I am?

I am pondering this question of Jesus to his disciples...
                     "Who do you say that I am?" (Mark.8.29)

I remember when I first came upon that passage studying Greek (over 30 years ago now!), and how I learned that it was the middle of Mark's story about Jesus. In other words, you (as the reader) had learned about 1/2 of the story, and you were asked to answer that question. But you only knew 1/2 the story (imagine it was your first time reading it, just go with me...), so how could you know?

In the story of Mark, Peter blurts out the answer...but he got lucky, because the second part of the story shows us the answer to the question. Jesus is the Son of God, the messiah, as Peter rightly notes back in chapter 8 there. ("You are the Messiah.") But the problem is, other than guesssing, there is no evidence to this point in the story that Jesus actually IS the messiah. People treat him as such, like Peter and others, but he hasn't done anything messiah-like to this point in the story. So at this point in the story to call him "messiah" like Peter does is as much wishful thinking as it is anything--and it certainly is NOT reasoning from the available evidence.

In fact, if the story of Jesus went on for the next 8 chapters exactly like the first 8, anyone who claimed Jesus as the messiah would be a bona-fide nut-case. Or, at least, someone who does not have anything but wishful thinking to stand as evidence for your belief.

Now, I understand that some people might say "What about the miracles? Certainly no human can do miracles. He must be something special. He must be the messiah or something." But are miracles evidence that Jesus was special? Are they evidence that he was the messiah? I say No.

For one, as David Hume noted centuries ago, you can't use miracles to prove something because they cannot be repeated so as to test your hypothesis. In other words, since miracles have no more evidence behind them than the original assertion, you might as well just stick with your original assertion. So, using Hume, if you believe Jesus was the messiah because of the miracles, you can no more prove to me the miracles than the claim Jesus is the messiah. And, since I do not believe--at this point in the story--that Jesus is the messiah, your miracle-claim doesn't do much for me either.

Secondly, historians have shown pretty convincingly that there were miracle-workers all over the place in Jesus' time, and Jesus seems to be one of many. Now, for me, as I think Jesus was a pretty smart guy, he probably knew there were other miracle workers too. Notice how he never says--Hey, these miracles are pretty impressive, I must be something special! In fact, no one, not even Peter, uses Jesus' miracles as a way to convince somebody that Jesus is special. I mean, if raising someone like Jairus' daughter was so special, so unique, so unheard of in the world, then why doesn't someone somewhere say--Hey, isn't he the guy that raised her from the dead? (Mark 5.21-43) as a way to argue that Jesus IS the messiah? No one, it seems, thought the miracles were that special, except the people who were grateful he performed them for their health and salvation, like Jairus who got his daughter back from the dead.

What Peter, the Church, and even Jesus knows is that you can't believe Jesus is the messiah because he did miracles. You have to believe he is the messiah because of something else, you need some other kind of evidence to believe he is the messiah...and that's the last half of Mark's story. Stay tuned.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

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