You could say it is a question of life or death. It is certainly a life changing question. It has to be.
There is no other way. It is a question that can only be answered in truth and honesty. It is useless
to lie or pretend.
And our answer can only come from freedom. It can’t be made for you. It cannot be forced. It will do no good to follow the crowd or take the pulse of popular opinion. All other choices flow from the one fundamental answer to “Who do you say I am?"
Who is Jesus was a hot topic. This question was ask and argued about everywhere; in the
courtyards, the synagogues, the roadsides and the taverns. Who was Jesus, this man from
Nazareth? Son of Mary and Joseph. Was he a teacher, healer, or prophet, a troublemaker or the
messiah? And if the messiah, then what kind of messiah is this man of forgiveness and peace?
A lot of people knew about Jesus, certainly the Romans and the temple authorities knew about him. They had heard the stories. But, knowing about something is not the same as knowing something. I know about the Amazon rain forrest, but I have never been there. I have not experienced its heat, its closeness and sounds. We can know about parenting, but unless you are a parent you really don't know its dynamics and inner workings. We can read poems about love, but unless we love we know precious little. Ideas and words are grand, but experience is the king.
This distinction between knowing about and knowing is what makes Jesus' question critical to our lives. Knowing about Jesus changes nothing, but knowing Jesus changes all. Because knowing is experience and experience is transforming. Experience becomes a part of us.
The conversion from knowing about Jesus to knowing Jesus is what happened to the disciples and those who were touched by Jesus' words and actions. It is what happened when the sinful women, who knew about Jesus, came to the Pharisees house where Jesus was dinning and experienced directly his forgiveness and mercy. In that moment of grace and transforming love her knowing about Jesus became knowing Jesus. It was conversion and it changed her forever.
So when Jesus asks Peter who do you say I am, he certainly is not asking him what have you heard about me. Jesus already knew the rumors, opinions and speculations. Jesus is not asking Peter his opinion, or what his thoughts are on the topic.
Opinions are shallow notions, they come and go and they change nothing, but our dinner conversations. But, what we know from experience remains a part of us, gets into us, affects who we are.
Jesus is asking Peter - what is your experience of me. What is it about that experience that cannot be forgotten or denied? Have you changed, Peter? Where is your heart and mind?
Of course, Peter’s answer, as does our own answer, tells us more about Peter and ourselves then it does about Jesus. The answer reveals who we are. At least at that moment.
In the first reading the prophet Zachariah proclaims that God, who Israel no longer knows, will still pour grace upon Israel, but only after they have rejected and pierced him. Israel's knowledge of God will come only after they recognize who God is.
When they come to know the Messiah and know he comes not as retribution and vengeance, but as forgiveness and love. This new understanding and experience becomes the fountain of living water that will pour out a new spirit to purify lives and cleanse sins and soften hardened hearts. Then they will proclaim, as Peter did when he answered Jesus’ question with “You are the Christ.”
In the second reading Paul tells the Galatians that it is through faith that they become children of God. He reminds them they have gone beyond merely knowing about Jesus.
baptism. Through baptism they are made new and they are clothed in Christ, that is, they now
resemble Christ. And in reassembling Christ they are no longer many separated by race, gender, or
They now belong to Christ and they experience this belonging in the Holy Spirit and through their Faith, Hope and Charity. And because they belong to the Lord Jesus they must do as the Lord commands them to do. And this is the hard part.
Jesus reveals to Peter that the Son of Man, Jesus own term for himself, must first be misunderstood, feared and hated. He would suffer cruelty and even death.
God. Jesus is asking Peter do you want to be a part of this? Are you ready for what you must do?
Jesus then says (and this qualifier is important) to ALL.
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and pick up his cross daily. For who wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it."This is illogical and unreasonable. How can anyone do this? How can I do this?
How can deny myself and follow Jesus, if I only know about him? He is only words on a page or in my head and not in my heart. If he is only a character in a story and not my Lord and Savior how can I take up the cross daily? How can I hand over my life to someone I don't know? How can I sacrifice anything, if I am not in love?
The truth is, to follow Jesus, I must first come to know Jesus, experience in my life his forgiveness, and mercy. Be touched and healed by his love. Challenged and enflamed by his words. I must come to know him through an ever deepening prayer life, in the sharing of the sacraments, and through fellowship with people of good will. I must come to know him in the kindness, patience and the generosity I show everyone. I must come to know him in humility and service. It is only then that I can love him. It is only then that I can lay down my life for him and for the Kingdom of God.