As a church and as global citizens, we need to pay attention to the central question in today's Gospel: “Who do you say that I am?" This, however, is not some koan or brain-puzzling riddle; rather, the portrait of Jesus that emerges in the Gospels is itself the answer, revealing who he is and who he is not. At a time when there are those who co-opt Jesus for their own advantage, it is essential that people of faith can distinguish between the "real" Jesus and the "fake" Jesus, between Jesus as the sacrament of God and the Jesus created by the establishment to further its own ends.
“Who do you say that I am NOT?" Whether we pray with scripture or simply listen to the liturgical texts on Sundays, it is clear that Jesus is NOT an "establishment man." He does not stand with the wealthy and the powerful, but instead befriends the poor and abandoned ones. He does NOT judge on the basis of race, nationality, or religion, but instead judges the human heart. He does NOT align himself with the religious and political authorities, but instead critiques hypocrisy. He does NOT bow before earthly powers, but instead allows God to empower him. He does NOT resort to violence, but instead preaches peace. He does NOT make himself the center of attention, but instead responds to the needs of the people. He does NOT aspire to kingship but rather seeks to serve...
“Who do you say that I am?" Well, the answer can be summed up in a single four-letter word: LOVE. Any individual, or organization or institution that promotes hatred, division, power-grabbing, self-aggrandizement, lies, violence, exclusion, cruelty, or injustice in the name of Jesus cannot claim to be Christian. In fact, I would say that their actions and attitudes tear down the Kingdom of God to construct monuments to their own egos and self-serving interests. What do YOU say?
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Jesus, entering the region of Caesarea Philippi, asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter answered,
"You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in Heaven.
In a memorable video shot decades ago, Oprah Winfrey learns a powerful lesson from Maya Angelou: "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time." Now, the two women were actually speaking about major character flaws such as being selfish, mean or unkind. To use a simple analogy, when a scorpion shows you its sting, know that it is in the scorpion's nature to sting and it will do so in the future-- repeatedly! However, the same lesson could be turned around to demonstrate another truth: "When someone shows you that they are generous, compassionate and kind, believe them the first time." In other words, for better or worse, people reveal who they are by their words and deeds.
When Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?" he is basically asking them to reflect on all that they have seen and heard. He has no real interest in what "others" are saying, as for example, that he could be Elijah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist or one of the prophets. Instead, having shown them who he is, he wants his disciples to articulate their experience of him. It is at this point that Peter gives his famous profession of faith: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This statement comes from the heart. Neither empty flattery, nor a regurgitation of public opinion, it sums up Peter's conclusions regarding Jesus' identity -- and these conclusions are based on direct observation, as well as Divine revelation.
“Who do you say that I am?" is the most important theological question facing Christians in any era, from the beginnings of Christianity roughly 2000 years ago, to the present day. It is not enough to repeat what we studied in the catechism, learned from our parents, heard in some homily or came across in a scholarly theological work. To do so would simply be to have "inherited faith"
as opposed to having a faith that is built on our own experience of the Risen Christ. How does Jesus "show us" who he is in the context of our own lives-- and how do we respond?
Living in a largely post-Christian world, we are surrounded by those who claim Jesus is irrelevant, that the gospels are works of fiction and that Jesus never actually existed. Then, there are those who focus on the historical Jesus rather than on the Jesus of faith; while they may follow his teachings, ritualizing key moments in his life, they may not believe in the possibility of a "real" relationship with him. Conversely, there is also the trend of viewing Jesus as a Cosmic figure whose role is to advance evolutionary consciousness; such a Jesus will wake us up spiritually but may be too transcendent to engage with us on a personal level. For others, Jesus is Savior, Teacher, Healer, Prophet, Shaman, Judge, Brother, Friend, Beloved:
"This is not to say we are limited to a one-dimensional understanding of Jesus. At times, however, a particular facet of who he is becomes more important than other facets; or, expressed differently, a particular Christology may somehow be more relevant to our own lived experience. Understanding this frees us to relate to Jesus out of the context of our lives" (Stewart, Jesus the Holy Fool, 1999).
There are as many Christologies as there are Christians, but the only important Christology is the one we hold ourselves.
Who do YOU say that Jesus is?