TWELFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (C)
"Who do you say that I am?" This is the question Jesus asks in today's gospel reading from Luke 9:18-24. It is still an important question today, an essential one for any Christian.
I cannot recall how often I have been asked this question on retreats, in classes, guided prayers, etc. Unfortunately the emphasis is often put on the wrong word. "Who do you say that He is?" the questioner asks. They are interested in our personal thoughts about Jesus.
There is an approach to this question which is helpful, and one that I fear could be harmful to one's faith. It is, on the one hand, absolutely essential that a Christian know the answer to this question. A Christian is not one who merely follows the teachings of Christ, but one who follows Christ Himself. We do not worship Christ because of anything He said or did but because of who He is. Our faith is a personal faith. We believe in a Person, and we must believe within our person.
So the "you" in "Who do you say that I am?" is vital. Jesus wants our personal answer.
But there is an unhelpful way of looking at this, as well. We can put too much emphasis on "our personal answer" and begin to treat Jesus as a construct of our own thoughts and desires. What would we want in a savior?
I have sat in discussion groups and heard people say, "Well, to me, Jesus is a friend, a companion on the journey..." "To me, Jesus is like an older brother..." "To me, Jesus is a messenger of God's mercy..." "To me, Jesus is an example of how to live right."
Some of these answers may be better than others, but the problem is the emphasis placed on the, "To me, to me, to me." We can easily fall into the trap of recasting Christ in our own image. We forget that Jesus did not ask, "What do you say I am like?" but rather "Who do you say that I am?"
So let's take the emphasis off of "you" and put it where it ought to be. "Who do you say that I am?" Who is Jesus? As Jesus is a real Person, this question has a real answer.
This means there are wrong ways to answer this question. "You are John the Baptist." "You are Elijah." "You are a prophet." No, no, no. This is what the crowd was saying, and the crowd rarely gets it right.
"The Christ of God," Simon Peter says. Yes, yes, yes. Christ means Messiah, the Anointed One. The one for whom the Jewish people have long awaited. As Peter puts it in the parallel version from Matthew, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God."
It is this answer which prompted Jesus to change Simon's name to Rock (Peter) and promise, "Upon this Rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it" (Mt 16:18).
This is Jesus. This is who He is, regardless of our personal thoughts and opinions on the matter. So don't be like the crowd, murmuring your own guesses at who this Jesus might be. "A prophet, a teacher, a holy man, a revolutionary, a friend." All of those things might describe what He is like. But when someone asks you who He is, you can do no better than to unite yourself to Peter's faith and proclaim, "He is the Christ of God."
The Catholic Church is the Church founded upon the Rock of Peter by Jesus Christ. It is the Church which Christ sustains in existence to this day, and will continue to sustain until the end of time. To know Jesus is to know His Church. To live the life of the Church is to live a life close to Jesus.
This means being willing to abandon some of our own perceptions and preconceptions about who we think Jesus might be. It means learning about Him through the reality of His Church, through which He remains with us today. We must "deny ourselves" as Christ teaches in this same gospel passage, so that we may better "take up our cross and follow Him."
In this way we will come to know the real Jesus, as He is. This is vital. In the beginning stages of any relationship, we can make the mistake of falling in love with the image we have of the other person in our mind. This can never be true love. This is a crush, an infatuation. Real love requires us to know the real person, as they truly are.
Falling in love with Jesus requires the same. Come to know Jesus the Christ in all His glory. Accept no substitutes.