Thirteen men were walking along a dirt road in the country. In Nepal or India, in Spain along the Camino de Santiago, in many places even today, it would make sense. In our part of the world, picture 13 guys on a minibus, traveling between homeless shelters along the east coast.
The leader isn’t obvious in appearance. But because all the conversation leans toward him, so do you. As the conversation goes on, he asks, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
In our minds, that sounds like a question that a pollster would ask, or a egotistical leader. But this is Jesus and these are the disciples. And we’ll take their answers at face value.
The disciples weren’t always with Jesus. From what we read in Matthew before this story, we know that the disciples went on their own mission trips into the villages. We know that they mingle with crowds, meet people Jesus doesn’t meet. They hear things that people say when they think Jesus can’t hear them.
“Some people say John the Baptist.” This is what Herod thought about Jesus, that this was John come back from the dead.
“Some people say Elijah,” who was the greatest of the prophets.
“Some say Jeremiah,” who had watched Jerusalem be destroyed, and was taken into exile.
“Some say another prophet.”
The people knew Jesus was special, that he was scriptural. They knew that he spoke the words of God to powerful people. They knew that he wasn’t afraid, that he was representing something bigger than Rome or religious leaders.
That’s what the prophets did. They were given messages from God and they spoke them. And they were resisted. John was killed. Elijah was threatened with death. Jeremiah spent much time locked up and ignored.
Then Jesus looks at the dozen men: “Who do you say I am?”
The conversation changes immediately. This isn’t a political strategy conversation, about the public image of the Son of Man. This is a small group of people, face-to-face. This is eye contact. This is Jesus looking at Judas, at Andrew, at John.
“Who do you say that I am?”