Holy Week

I Am; Am I?

(A reflection for Good Friday  April 10, 2009    Mark 14:53-65) 

“Who do you say that I am?”

It’s a question that flows through scripture as Jesus wonders whether the people around him can possibly understand who he is and what he is about. Some think he is a prophet, reincarnated, Elijah perhaps. Those closest to him suspect he is the Messiah, but probably with a measure of confusion, since their image of a Savior included a little more muscle than Jesus tended to show, a little more power used to overthrow the earthly powers.

On the last day of his life, the questions were turned on him. “Are you the Messiah? Are you the Son of the Blessed One?”

In the oldest gospel, Mark, Jesus answers in two Greek words that might mean “I am,” but might just as easily be translated, “Am I?” Because the other gospels choose the latter interpretation, having Jesus say, “You say so” or “So you have said,” it’s been on my mind, that question. “Am I?”

We know that in the garden, the night before, Jesus asked to be spared, if at all possible. “Let this cup pass from me,” he prayed, alone and afraid, a very human being.

I wonder, is it possible that in the moment of being questioned, even he wondered who and what he was?

"Am I?"

On this day, of all days, I can believe he didn’t know how it would turn out, didn’t rely on being resurrected, didn’t see we would be talking about him nearly 2000 years later. He chose—God chose—to inhabit a human body and a human heart, both breakable. God chose to accept the limits of mortality and pain and disappointment, all of which other human beings made readily available.

If he understood himself to be the Son of God, the one coming in the clouds, did he go to the cross considering the possibility of saving himself? Any god might have done that, avoiding the pain and the suffering, the slow death. Any of us would, if we could.

Are you the Son of God? That’s what they wanted to know, and he answered indirectly.

Am I?

You have said so.

You say that I am.

On that upside down day, the power lay with those who did not understand him, those who feared him, those who wanted it all to be over in hopes of protecting their own lives, in hopes of keeping a kind of peace in the community.

Am I? He asks the question, and we hear in it an edge. Then he echoes the words of Daniel: you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven. He changes the image, from Son of God to Son of Man and paints a picture of heavenly, not earthly, power. These are things he was not at that moment, yet the high priest tore his clothes and declared blasphemy and the night and the day moved on to what must have seemed an inevitable conclusion.

I am. Am I?

On that day, perhaps he wondered, too.

With thanks to John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg and their book, The Last Week, in which they raised this question about the Greek used in Mark's gospel.