8th September 2023

In last week’s gospel reading (Matthew 16.13-20), Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” In this pivotal moment in the gospel story, Peter replies, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”.

What does it mean to say that Jesus is the “Christ”? To the disciples in first-century Palestine, Bishop Tom Wright says it was “about the politically dangerous and theologically risky claim that Jesus is the true King of Israel, the final heir to the throne of David, the one before whom [all other rulers] are just shabby little imposters” (Mark for Everyone).

A contemporary meaning of the “Christ” might be the one who ends all war, disease and suffering, and brings peace and harmony to the world; someone you would welcome with longing, open arms.

Jesus’ meaning of the “Christ” is somewhat different. In Matthew’s account (16.21-28), Jesus goes on to say that his future is to suffer at the hands of the religious authorities in Jerusalem, to be killed and then to rise again. And, just to be clear, his disciples would also have to suffer, take up the humiliation of their own cross and maybe die for Jesus’ sake.

I find it difficult to identify with this vision of following Jesus. The most we are likely to suffer in Bristol is to be ignored or possibly ridiculed for our old-fashioned beliefs. So it is sobering to hear the stories of our fellow Christians in places like Burma/Myanmar, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Nigeria… who risk their freedom and indeed their lives, when they choose to follow Jesus. Let’s remember them in prayer today.

Ian Waddington