If I were to ask you, "who do you say I am?" you probably won't be able to answer because you do not know me. Most if not all of us, have had experiences where we have heard about someone or about a particular situation, and have in our own minds, formed an opinion about them or about the situation. Then, sometime later, we had the opportunity to meet the person or get first-hand information on the situation and our whole concept, or opinion of that person or of that situation changed. In many situations we may have completely misjudged the person or the situation. We got it all wrong. We may have made the person out to be a bad person or not so nice person based on what we have heard of them.
I have had quite a few experiences like this in my life where I formed an opinion of someone based either on what I heard of them, or situations in which they were involved. However, when I did to get to know them better I realized that the opinion that I had of them was all wrong.
In this weekend's gospel reading, Jesus asked his disciples two very important questions: the first being, "Who do people say I am?", And the second being, "Who do you say I am?" The gospel challenges us by asking us who is Jesus to us? Who is God to us? What does Jesus mean to us? Do we have a meaningful relationship with Jesus?
In the first question, Jesus is asking his disciples what are people saying about him, what have they heard about him. An important point to note here is that this is coming close to the end of Jesus' ministry and of his time here on earth. It is almost as if Jesus was doing an assessment of whether people understood who he was after three years of ministering to them. After three years of turning water into wine, after three years of healing the sick, after three years of opening the eyes of the blind, after three years of feeding the multitudes, often three years of preaching and teaching, after three years of raising the dead to life, Jesus wanted to find out from his disciples whether the people he has been ministering to over this time really understood who he was and why he came. Clearly, based on their answers, they had it all wrong. All the people that they thought he was were all really great people. However that clearly was not who Jesus is.
Jesus' second question that he posed to his disciples was more direct, and this time he asked them for their opinion. These are the ones he had specifically chosen to be his companions. These are the ones he called one by one to "come and follow me". These were the ones who give up their livelihood to follow this Messiah. These were the ones who would've had first-hand knowledge and experience of who Jesus was and what he did. These were the ones that Jesus was now asking, "Who do you say I am?" And it was Peter who replied, "You are the Christ the son of the living God."
Even though Peter got the answer right, his actions later, particularly when he denied knowing Jesus three times, would contradict his response. You see the reality of who Jesus is, is meant to transcend that moment in time when we first encountered him. It is meant to go way beyond the boundaries. For Christians and for us Catholics in particular, our experience of who Jesus is must go way beyond a head knowledge of him into the realm of a daily heart experience of His love and His mercy. It is all well and good for us to profess - in good times - that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father, but what about when we lose our jobs? What about when we can't seem to find our way? What about when our family is in turmoil or marriage falls apart? What about when our finances are running low? When Jesus asks who do you say I am, can we still say with absolute surety and from the very depths of our being, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God and I trust you. Even though I do not understand what is happening around me, I trust you because you are my Lord."
The second question that Jesus posed to his disciples is by far the more important of the two because it requires of those to whom it is asked to have a bull's eye view, a personnel encounter with Jesus. A perfect stranger will not walk up to any of us and ask our opinion of them. It is our friends and our family who may ask this of us. Many many people, and sad to say many are Catholics, have a wrong opinion of the Catholic faith and of the Catholic Church simply because they have allowed their opinions of the church to be formed by the incorrect perceptions of others. They have allowed their opinion of the Catholic church to be formed by situations that do not define what the Catholic church is, nor does it define what being Catholic is. And many have turned away from the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church because of here-say and miss information. Today Jesus is challenging us all to come into relationship with him. Not a surface, superficial relationship like we see all around us and in particular on television. Jesus is challenging us all to come to the wellspring of His love and His mercy, and taste of the living water that he is. Jesus is challenging us to move from a position of hearing about him, to a position of intimately knowing him. Jesus is challenging us, especially Catholics today, to move from a position of being too lazy to make the time to learn the truth about our Catholic faith, to a position where our hearts are set on fire because our eyes have been opened to the true meaning of the Catholic faith. Jesus is asking you straight up and personal, in your face, who do you see I am? What will your response be?
May the Holy Spirit, the author and creator of life fill the emptiness of our lives with new life in Christ Jesus and bring us all into such a profound experience of God's love in Christ Jesus, that our lives will be radically renewed and transformed every day that we live. May we cry out from the very depth of our being, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God! You are Lord of my life and I love and trust you."
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