“Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?” (John 4:12).
“Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?” (8:53).
Jesus takes up the question and responds to it with another question. “Who do you say I am?” (Luke 9:20b). The disciples explain that “[s]ome say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life” (9:19). Certain Jews say, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” (John 8:48). The crowd’s responses are diverse, but the question still remains. “Who do you say I am?”
In his book Jesus of Nazareth, Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) describes a Rabbi’s quest to understand Jesus. Rabbi Jacob Neusner wrote a book called A Rabbi Talks with Jesus in which Neusner was one of the people listening to Jesus on the mount. Although Neusner was fascinated with Jesus for a time, he ultimately decides not to follow Jesus becomes he comes to the conclusion that Jesus claims to replace the Torah, to replace the Law. Jesus claims to be the same God that as a Jew Rabbi Neusner has been worshiping throughout his whole life. Neusner’s fidelity to his Jewish faith and to the Law that was given through Moses prevents him from accepting Jesus.
The Jews, recalling prophets in salvation history, cannot accept a carpenter’s son to be greater than the patriarchs. They find that Jesus’ claim to be greater than the Law, to be the giver of the Law in fact, cannot be reconciled with their Jewish faith; thus many choose, like Rabbi Neusner, not to follow him. And although Jesus repeatedly attempts to convince the Jews that the scriptures all point to his coming, many cannot take the leap of faith.
“Who do you say I am?” Peter responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Jesus also responds to his own question: “Before Abraham was born, I AM!” (John 8:58).
So, who do we say he is? That is the question. We must decide.