You are the Christ

Daily Reading for January 18 • The Confession of St. Peter the Apostle

From apostolic times, Jesus has been spoken of, and proclaimed, as the Christ, the anointed One. While such usage is common in the earliest Christian preaching, it is not common in the Gospel accounts, although Peter proclaims Jesus as the Christ at Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8.29; Matt. 16.16; Luke 9.20). However, Mark tells us that Jesus forbade his disciples to speak of this (Mark 8.30), and he himself does not speak of himself as the Christ (apart from the two references in Matt. 23.10 and Mark 9.41 which are from secondary sources). Christ, Messiah, was not at this time a divine or even supernatural title, but was associated with an act of earthly liberation, with the restoration of Israel. Whether Jesus ever specifically accepted the title is not clear. When asked by the High Priest about the claim to messianic status, he seems to have accepted it (Mark 14.61; Matt. 26.63) though this may simply reflect the early Church’s view. Yet within a generation of the crucifixion the name ‘Christian’ was being used in Antioch (Acts 11.26), and King Agrippa II knows and understands this usage (26.28).

In view of the clear centrality of the identification of Jesus with the Christ/Messiah in the early Church’s preaching, it is significant that there is so little evidence in the Synoptics, or even in John, for an explicit claim from the lips of Jesus himself. Had there been more evidence to produce, the early Church would surely have produced it in support of their belief. . . . It was out of the experience of what Jesus had achieved, in his ministry, death, and resurrection, and out of reflection on this achievement in the light of the Jewish hope, that the early Christians came quickly to see Jesus as the Messiah.

From Experiencing God: Theology as Spirituality by Kenneth Leech (Harper and Row, 1985).

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