Having Your Say

Having Your Say

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
[Is 50:5-9a. Ps 116:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9. Jas 2:14-18. Mk 8:27-35.]

This is a root question, a fundamental question that Jesus asks us today!
And he does ask us! In the Gospels that are fulfilled in our hearing, He asks across the spans of time this persistent question: "Who do you say that I am?"

Peter, of course, in his own hasty fashion, blurts out his answer: “You are the Christ!”

Well, he’s partially right. Peter sees his version of the Christ—the anointed one—the long-expected one, the great savior of Israel.
In Peter’s mind, he has just identified the person who is going to rise up to defeat the Romans and bring back the glory of the Kingdom of Judah!

Sounds like the mighty champion the Jews have longed for! That’s what Peter is thinking when he answers Jesus’ question.

But Peter is experiencing the unfolding of the ministry of Jesus, and he is only here—only riding the crest of the wave of the messianic signs. Since Peter began to follow Jesus, he has seen and heard Jesus teach with astonishing authority. He has seen Jesus drive out demons, cure the sick, make the blind see and the deaf hear, feed the poor, calm storms.... and even declare Himself the lord of the Sabbath!
These are all messianic signs!

But again, Peter is only partially right.

We know this, because in our places in time, we have heard what we think is the whole story.

And that is why Jesus’ persistent question—“Who do you say that I am?”--holds such great interest and importance for us today.

We can only “know” someone in terms of ourselves—we can only identify who others are in terms of who we are.
And we can never know someone completely this side of heaven.

If we think so, if we fail to recognize the mystery of each and every person—ourselves included—well, I think we delude ourselves.

Let me give you an example: If you ask a 5-year old, a 15-year-old and a 30-year old male this question: “Who do you say a father is?” you are going to get three different answers. And all of them will be partially right!

Each one will define what a father is in terms of either his relationship with his father at his point of life, or in terms of what the actual experience is of being a father!
Each one is right – each one is not totally right.

And now, Jesus begins to “teach them”—to give them the true picture of His mission: He will suffer greatly, be rejected, be killed, and rise.

That is what brings Peter so much discomfort that Peter himself begins to actually rebuke Jesus!
And this is why Jesus refers to Peter as Satan: Peter refuses to accept this “suffer-and-die” course of events of God’s will. Peter wants to see Jesus live out his idea of mighty leader. In a way, Peter urges Jesus to go the way of the world, not the way of God.

And now, Jesus drops the other sandal – so to speak. Jesus tells the disciples that they have to deny themselves, take up the cross, and follow him.

Now that’s a different picture altogether!

It is a thing that we struggle with, like Peter did, with Jesus’ image of a suffering servant.
It is a struggle he offers all of us: “deny yourself, take up the cross, follow me.”

And Jesus continues to ask us, “Who do you say that I am? "

The question is relentless in its challenge. It is a question about relationships and about faith.

Remember that Peter, the man who confesses the identity of Jesus, also denies Him. The ones who followed Him also deserted him.
The “who do you say that I am” question had a different meaning in the anxieties of Jesus’ betrayal and passion and death than it does in today’s Gospel.

I have a friend whose uncle was in one of the most blood-spattered battles of the Second World War. Combat-weary and on the verge of emotional collapse, the man sat down on the brink of a bomb crater and leaned back against the stump of a tree that had mostly been blown to bits.

He took out his Rosary, now so beat up from having been with him through the war. He prayed, “Where are you, and who are you, and why have you led me to this desolation?”
The Corpus, the body of Christ on the rosary crucifix had loosened, and now in being jostled in the man's hand, it fell off the Rosary crucifix and bumped down the hill into cold, wet mud.
The man crawled down and fished around in the cold, wet, January 1945 mud, trying to find it.

And as he leaned over, incoming fire seared just over his head and blew to bits the tree stump that only seconds before he had ben leaning against!
He never questioned God about that again, because he realized that he had literally followed Jesus who tells his disciples: take up your crosses and follow Me, and I will give you life!

That's who Jesus was for this man in that place and in that day!

And now, my friends, on this 24th Sunday of the year 2009, the persistent question remains:

From where you are and who you are:
Who do you say that Jesus is?