You Are The Christ!

landscapeSelf-identity is a big deal in our society. Knowing who we are enables us to journey forward through life with confidence, a sense of direction and purpose, an accurate assessment of our capabilities as well as weaknesses. In this gospel, Jesus’ question to his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” was not about his seeking his own self-awareness. It was a question put to the disciples that would reveal to them more deeply who he was and why he came among them. In Peter’s response, “You are the Christ,” we meet a high point in Mark’s gospel account. We are invited to struggle more deeply with who Jesus is. We are invited to prepare ourselves for what faithful discipleship entails.

Yes, Peter acknowledges that Jesus is “the Christ,” but misses the deeper point. From Jewish tradition Peter has a preconceived notion of who Jesus is and also of who “the Christ” would be—as the “anointed one,” the Messiah, he would be a great king (kings of Israel were anointed), overthrow Roman domination, and restore the powerful Israel of old. But this is not “the Christ” who Jesus came to be. Jesus’ self-awareness is revealed ever so fully: he is “the Christ” who will “suffer greatly,” “be rejected,” and “be killed.” Jesus also makes something else explicit—disciples must also “take up [their] cross” if they are to follow Jesus. The disciples are hardly prepared for understanding Jesus’ identity as “the Christ”; they are even less prepared to grasp the demands of following him.

Jesus is called “the Christ”—Peter is called Satan. Salvation confronts human resistance. Peter had a certain image, belief, expectation of what “the Christ” was to be, to do. Suffering, rejection, and being killed had nothing to do with Peter’s Christ. But they have everything to do with the Christ of God. Without a right understanding of “the Christ,” we cannot, with him, rise to new Life. Alone, the demands of discipleship would be impossible, the struggle beyond us. But with God as our help, we can begin to think as God does, not as humans. And how does God think? Not in terms of beatings, buffets, pain, ridicule, or even death. God thinks in terms of life and love. God thinks in terms of salvation. God only wills for us what is good for us and what brings us to new Life. We take up our own cross daily because this is the way to a share in risen Life.

This gospel makes explicit the parameters of discipleship: self-denial, bearing hardship. It makes equally explicit why in the world anyone would follow Jesus: because this is the way to have Life. Herein is a clear gospel presentation of the paschal mystery: it means death and new Life, it means making a choice, it means that we, too, must embrace this way of living if we are to receive the gift of salvation Jesus offers.

It is no small coincidence that this gospel begins with the question of Jesus’ identity and then ends with the cost of discipleship. Identity and discipleship are inextricably related because who we are, our own self-awareness, shapes how we follow. Our identity through baptism is that of Body of Christ; by being united with him in identity, we are also united with him in his life, death, and resurrection. Unlike him, we will not die on a cross. Like him, we are called to be followers who give themselves for the good of others.

Who Do You Say I Am?

I don’t know exactly how many times in the four Gospel accounts of the New Testament Jesus asks other people to follow him. But it’s well more than 20. The whole question of “Who is willing to follow Jesus Christ?” is pretty much the defining question of Christianity.
Some may ask it personally of you : “You mean you believe all of this stuff about forgiveness, and loving enemies, and this resurrection from the dead?” However it’s worded, the whole matter of following Jesus is central to living the Christian faith.

The question becomes, “What does it actually mean to follow Jesus, especially in modern times, or in middle- or upper-middle class North America?” If you’re going to take the words of Jesus seriously – those ones about “losing your life for his sake” and “denying yourself” – well, what’s your life going to look like?

What does it mean to follow Jesus in your life, and in these times? In our Gospel, Peter recoils at Jesus’ revelation that as “the Christ” he must “suffer greatly…be rejected…be killed, and rise after three days.” Peter is so aghast at the words of Jesus about suffering and death that he fails to hear the most important part of the revelation about who Jesus is and what he is to accomplish. He fails to grasp that through death Jesus will be raised to new life.

Today, Jesus asks us “Who do you say I am?” We may quickly answer, “You are the Christ.” However, we may hesitate when we hear Jesus say, “Take up your cross and follow me.” We must lose our life for the sake of others. this is the difficult lesson to be learned. We cannot avoid dying to self if we wish to rise to new life with Jesus.

How do we die to self? We must die to our way of thinking [taking the easy way of self-interest,] and embrace how God thinks [carrying the cross of goodness, justice, integrity]. Or we must empty ourselves for the good of another even when we are tired or frustrated or don’t like the other person in need.

On our own, living the paschal mystery would be just about impossible. Why we can embrace te dying is because Jesus has already shown us the way. The only way to follow Jesus is to die to self.

Who Do You Say I Am?

The two questions that Jesus poses to His disciples today – “Who do people say I am?” and “Who do you say I am?” are questions that every disciples has to face at some time in their lives. They may be questions that we have to keep returning to as we learn more – and change throughout the course of our lives.

Jesus asks the disciples first of all what they have heard others say about Him – and they quote those who say He is John the Baptist – Jeremiah – one of the other prophets – and so on.

Then, He changes the question to “But you – who do you say I am?” They fall silent – this was obviously something they either had not given any thought to – or could not put into words if they had.

At this point, Simon Peter finds words from deep within himself as the truth about who Jesus is revealed to him.

A fisherman – more used to mending nets and catching and selling fish – finds himself at a turning point in history – when Jesus is revealed as the Christ.

Jesus recognizes that such an insight cannot come from human thinking – but is a revelation from God. He also recognizes that this sets Peter apart as someone who not only receives the revelation but is also able to speak of it. In this, we see a premonition of Peter’s speech on the first Pentecost Sunday.

Throughout our lives, we hear different things about Jesus. Some of them will help to develop our understanding about Jesus – others will challenge us – and others may confuse us.

Like Peter today, we will hear all sorts of things about Jesus – but, eventually, we will have to look at them all and decide what we believe about Jesus. This may change and grow as we change and grow – indeed it should grow and change. But always, as we reflect, we come back to the same insight – stronger and deeper – that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ – the Son of God.

And this Gospel challenges us with our own identity. We are Christ’s presence any time we forgive, offer encouraging words, show mercy and compassion. In all these and many other ways, we witness to our identity as church- as the presence of the risen Christ made visible in and through us. Such an identity we share.