Francis J. Horn, O..S.A.
Province of St. Thomas of Villanova
Zech 12: 10-11; 13:1
Ps 63: 2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
Gal 3: 26-29
Lk 9: 18-24
In today’s gospel, Jesus is performing a kind of “reality check”—something good for all of us to do from time to time. It had been almost three years now that he had been traveling around the country, talking to the people about God’s love for them. And he brought that love to them in his own person by showing compassion for those who were suffering, by healing those who were hurting, by giving nourishment to those who were hungry, and by giving hope to those who felt there was little to live for. And he taught that by going out of ourselves and reaching out to others we could both experience God’s love in our own lives and extend it to others who are in desperate need of it. This was the work and the message that Jesus came to bring, and after two and a half years of living it, he was wondering how it was being received.
And so he asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” Those disciples had been with him most of the time. They mingled with the crowds that seemed to find him wherever he went, even when he was looking for some peace and quiet. They saw the miraculous happenings and the many people whose lives had been deeply affected by their belief in Jesus. They had heard what these people were saying, often out of earshot of the Master. “Who do they think he is?” Jesus asks.
Well, some think he is Elijah, the great man of God who supposedly had been taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot. Others say he is one of the other great prophets of the past, who spoke on behalf of God. Still others think he is John the Baptist, a man of more recent times, who, despite his eccentricities, was somehow able to effectively call the people back to God. It was certainly no insult for Jesus to be associated with these holy people. But they were not quite on the mark. The crowds didn’t quite understand that Jesus was more than just another holy person.
And so, Jesus asks his disciples—his closest friends—a different question: “Who do you say that I am?” The question was less speculative; it didn’t depend on what others thought or what the popular opinion held. It was a personal question: “Who do you say that I am? Based on your experience of me, your relationship with me, where I fit in your life: who do you say that I am?”
In typical fashion, Peter is the first to respond: “You are the Christ of God!” An answer rich in meaning: the Messiah, the Savior. I’m sure Peter really believed this, even if he didn’t fully comprehend its meaning. His answer came from the heart—it is how he experienced the one he had come to call “Lord.”
As we hear this gospel passage today, Jesus is asking each one of us that same personal question he asked of his closest friends: “Who do you say that I am?” In responding to that question, we can try to recall what we learned about Jesus as a child, or what we have heard about him in the gospels. We can even refer to Peter’s excellent answer in today’s gospel. But this isn’t what Jesus is asking. He wants to know: Who do you say that I am? Who am I to you? What is our relationship? What role do I play in your life? It’s a very important question if we take seriously our name “Christian.” And it is a question that each of us has to answer for ourselves.
Perhaps our relationship with the Lord is very close at this point in our lives and there is no hesitation about our response. But maybe we’re not sure exactly who Jesus is for us. Perhaps it’s been a long time since we’ve experienced his mercy and forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Perhaps our coming to Mass and receiving Holy Communion has become so routine that we fail to recognize what a great source of strength and nourishment the Lord offers us. Maybe we don’t take the time to talk to the Lord as we would to a close friend, and to listen when he speaks to us through the words of Scripture or deep in our heart.
Whatever our present situation, the question Jesus asks us today provides a good opportunity to look into our heart and see how we stand with the Lord. This kind of personal reality check can only benefit our spiritual growth.