“But who do you say that I am?”
In this excellent homily for 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Father Hanly looks at the question posed by Jesus: “But who do you say that I am?” It’s a question we’d do well to ask ourselves.
Readings for Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
- First Reading: Zechariah 12:10-11
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 62:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
- Second Reading: Galatians 3:26-29
- Gospel: Luke 9:18-24
This Gospel is very important because it’s in all three Gospels*. And in all three Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – it is the turning point in Jesus’ ministry.
It’s kind of like whatever went before is the preface, and now we have the heart of why Jesus came and what he came to do and what he hoped and what he was putting his faith in, in the kinds of people.
So it’s very good if we just take it step by step.
Remember now that the author of all of this is the only non-Jew to have written any book of the Holy Bible. And he has a distinctive perspective. He copies Matthew and Mark before him in many places, but he has a unique way of looking at the unravelling of the great mystery of the Suffering Servant of God.
And so, he begins this episode:
Once when Jesus was praying in solitude
Every time Jesus faces a difficult decision or is confused or is somewhat lost, he prays.
and the disciples were with him,
he asked them …
What kind of solitude are they talking about if the disciples were with him while he prayed?
It means that he reached down into the centre of his own heart and turned it open to his Father. And it became a dialogue of his Father and he. And the disciples were on the outside, but they were there.
And the second thing that Luke tells us about prayer is it’s a dialogue between you and God, but it is not done outside of a community of people, for that dialogue will have great effect on your life and on the lives of the people who love you and are close to you.
So prayer is never spent kneeling on the top of a mountain all alone. A prayer reaches to the God who has created all things and it reaches down and affects, like ripples in a pool, all that it touches till it comes to the end of the earth.
The disciples are a little bit startled, because Jesus is not the kind of person who says the following:
“Who do the crowds say that I am?”
He’s not interested in what the crowds say or think in terms of his own identity. He has a true and sure identity. He knows he is the Son of the Father and he knows what he must do and where he must go.
Then why does he ask this question?
Because all the disciples are talking about is who is going to be important in the Kingdom of God when he finally establishes it.
And they are very much concerned, as we are, by what other people think and what other people expect and, very often, sad as we might say it is, we often operate out of a fear for what they think and a fear of what they say. This is to be human.
But they answered him. And they were quite pleased with the answer because the people are saying, “He’s the second John the Baptist,” or “He’s Elijah, the great prophet who will come before the Messiah and pave his way,” or “One of the great prophets from the past,” and they feel quite happy to be in this kind of company.
And then Jesus pushes it all aside and he says,
“But who do you say that I am?”
“Who do you say that I am?
“I don’t care what they say, even if it’s as great as John the Baptist. I don’t care what they think. I want to know that when you and I walk together, hand in hand, who do you say I am?
“Do you want a John the Baptist that speaks of victory for the Messiah? Do you want an Elijah that rises up in a golden chariot to come on the great day? Do you want to join in some wonderful victory parade that seems to be indicated in the Last Supper?”
And he knows that that’s what they want.
And Peter says so. He says, “You are the Christ.”
Peter said in reply, “The Messiah of God.”
Now Christ means Messiah. Christ is the Anointed One of God. The Messiah is the same thing: the Anointed One of God in Hebrew.
And so Jesus rebukes them.
He rebuked them
A strange verb to put at this time. Because Peter is right. That is who he is. He is the Messiah of God. He is the Son of God.
And Peter feels that this is what he knows. But he doesn’t understand the meaning of that knowledge and therefore Jesus rebukes them for they are going to put up all the flags to march under the banner of the Messiah to a glorious future.
And then Jesus abruptly says to them,
“The Son of Man must suffer greatly
and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised.”
And then he looks at them and says, “When you see these things happening and you’re finally delivered from the kind of knowledge that feeds illusions and you see what the proper truth and reality is going to be, then,” he says, “if you want to continue to follow me, you must deny yourself. You must take up my cross daily and you then can follow me.
“Because if you don’t do this you’ll never know who I am.”
You’ll be lost in a kind of Messiah that we spend all day praying to deliver us from everything, like children having to be fed by candy, our belief hanging on the wonderful things that God does for us and forgetting that the essence of the Messiah is to reach God through this world, not some heavenly world, and the only way to reach God through this world is to follow the Messiah.
And he says, “You must walk through sorrow and pain.” Not because God has created these things, but because we have created a world with great sorrow and great pain and the only response is love.
And therefore it is not good enough for the Messiah to come and raise his glory gloriously on golden chariots to make us champions of the world and the chosen people.
You must suffer what people suffer and walk where people walk. And if that means you must follow Christ who walks in self-sacrificing love.
Because he reaches the cross not because he wants to, but it’s the only way to show the world that the only way to touch God, to understand God and to understand His Messiah, is when you decide that two things you can no longer harbour:
One is fear, fear of what other people will think and say.
And, of course, the other thing that Jesus means when he says you must “walk the walk that I walk,” is you must understand the greatest of your enemies is selfishness and the only way you can uproot selfishness is in self-giving.
And we know this. We see it all around us.
A child is born to a mother and she doesn’t say, “Well, I’ve given birth to the child” and check him off. She spends every last moment of her early days with that child feeding him and nurturing him. She has to give. And, if she doesn’t give, the child turns into a very unhappy, angry … a person almost beyond God’s ability to save them.
So it is love and sacrifice and this is the message.
Jesus says to them, “No more illusions. If you’re going to follow me, you must learn how to love.”
And the way you learn how to love is by thinking of others rather than yourself, and lose your life in others’ lives rather than your own.
And when you do this, you will experience God.
Because God gives. And God is a giver and He doesn’t, He doesn’t, above all things, give to us an understanding of life where selfishness is good for us.
We wonder sometimes how the disciples felt. We know the thing that saves them is not knowing Jesus, the thing that saves them is in loving him.
And when knowledge turns to mystery and faith is necessary, they will rise to the occasion and they will put their faith in the future of all mankind.
* of Years A, B and C.