Scripture: Matthew 16:13-20
I have been thinking about
how to describe the pandemic.
If the pandemic had a color,
what color would it be?
“Crayon melt color,”
my friend, Carolyn Frantz,
She and I had just finished discussing
what a weird time quarantine is.
It’s a time when you can glimpse
the breathtaking beauty of a moonlit night,
and also worry about ones fighting COVID,
as loneliness mucks up souls,
and suffering overstayed its welcome.
How do you find a word,
a color, for a time like that?
“It’s like when I was a kid,
and I loved doing crayon melts –
you know when you melted
to create colorful creations.
“Except, I loved it so much that
I would keep adding bright colors,
until all turned into a brown mess,
with a few swirls of color.
“Life right now feels like that.”
A brown mess
with swirls of color.
Yet, even still, the brown mess contains
a mass of colors, a kaleidoscope of wax
shrunken by this one moment
into optical singularity.
Yet, the rainbow remains,
there in the brown blur.
It’s a mystery how
this earthy color can contain
so much brightness.
As the pandemic paints
muted earth tones,
I wonder, what are the colors and
What are the colors
residing within you?
I wonder this
as I consider a line
that a friend once told me:
People “are a mystery, not a puzzle.
You can’t solve them. You enter them.”
You can’t solve mysteries.
You enter them.
How do I enter the mystery
of what a crayon melt contains
within the earth?
I wondered this as I hear the story
of Jesus trekking with friends.
Jesus speaks of keys
for the next part of the journey.
I am hungry for keys
that unlock doors
and solve puzzles.
And so, I hunch my shoulders
and lean in close when
Jesus asks dear ones,
who do you say that I am?”
I cannot wait to hear
the right response.
I imagine initially
there’s a pause,
as eyes fall to the ground,
and feet trace the dirt.
Yet, Peter takes a venture:
“You are the Christ, the Messiah,
the Firstborn of the Living God.”
“Blessed are you,”
It would seem that Peter got
the answer … correct.
in the next part of the story,
Jesus begins to explain
that Jesus must travel
to the center of power, Jerusalem,
and confront imperial powers.
In doing this, Jesus reveals,
I will suffer.
I will be killed.
However, Jesus continues,
that will not be the end of the story
of transforming the world.
More will come. More will rise.
Conscience and life will return.
Terrified, Peter, who loves Jesus,
This will never come to pass!
To which Jesus replies,
Get yourself behind me, you Satan!
You are trying to make me stumble and fall.
You’re setting your mind
not on the things of God but of mortals.
In other words, no matter what,
I will resist evil.
I will not allow it to continue.
There’s more to Jesus,
and Jesus’ sun-kissed brown skin,
than meets Peter’s eye.
Peter wants Jesus
to be a solvable puzzle.
Yet, Peter’s responses
serves as the beginning
of the exploration.
Who do you say Jesus is?
Don’t answer that question quickly.
It’s tempting to fall back,
as Christians, to religious language
that we’ve inherited,
that we could say in our sleep.
Or not to answer the question at all,
that way we don’t get it wrong.
Let the question linger.
Who is Jesus to you?
Perhaps that question is
not one to answer,
but one with which to live
your whole life long.
After all, in a similar story,
poet Rainer Maria Rilke
encourages his protégé to
sit with what he what he doesn’t know.
“Be patient,” Rilke writes in a letter,
“toward all that is unsolved in your heart.
Try to love the questions themselves,
like locked rooms and like books
that are written in a very foreign tongue.
Do not seek the answers,
which cannot be given to you
because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is,
to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps you will then gradually,
without noticing it,
live along some distant day
into the answer.”
Rilke’s words remind me that
entering into the mystery of others
remains a journey, not a destination.
As we perceive the earthy tones of others,
there is always another hue to discover.
As we discover when Jesus replies to Peter,
yes, I am the Messiah but
you have no idea what Messiah means.
There’s more to learn.
Don’t force the lock doors,
Jesus is saying.
who do you say that I am?
I cannot shake the intimacy of Jesus’ question
as Jesus turns to those with whom
Jesus has devoured bread,
walked long miles, shed tears,
and burst into laughter.
To these, Jesus asks,
“How do you experience me?”
I wonder how
you would answer.
How do you experience me?
Biblical commentator Debie Thomas
writes that when she thinks about
Peter’s whole story – or at least
all that we know –
she is stunned by the responses
that Peter must have lived into
as time went on.
Answers that he could not
have articulated early on.
Thomas points out
these responses –
Who do say that I am?
“You are the one who found me in a fishing boat
and gave me a new vocation.[i]
“You’re the one who healed my mother-in-law.
“You’re the one who said, ‘Yes, walk on water.’
You’re the one who caught me before I drowned.
“You’re the one who glowed on a mountaintop
while I babbled nonsense.
“You’re the one who told me – accurately –
that I’d be a coward on the very night
that you needed me to be brave.
“You’re the one I denied three times
To save my skin.
“You’re the one who looked in my eyes
with pain and pity when the cock crowed.
“You’re the one who fed me
breakfast on a beach and
spoke love and fresh purpose
into my humiliation.
“You’re the one who gave me
the courage to preach
to three thousand people on Pentecost.
“You’re the one who taught me
that I must not call unclean
what you have pronounced clean.
“You are the one who stayed by my side
through insults, beatings and imprisonment.
“You are the one I followed into martyrdom.
You are the Messiah,
the first born of the living God.”
Thomas now presses the questions to us:
Who has Jesus been to you in the past?
Who is Jesus now?
Who do you hope Jesus will be in the future?
Live those questions
as they change over the years.
Love the unsolved.
Cherish the locked rooms.
Enter the enigma of the colors
that swirl deep in the heart of Jesus,
and deep in the heart of you.
“I am dropping keys …”
The key is this:
to learn to adore
of what touches you
that you cannot see.
[i] I am quoting directly from Debie Thomas here. You can read her full commentary, “But What Do You Think?”, here: https://www.journeywithjesus.net/essays/2724-but-what-do-you-think