Feb 17, 2011

Jesus: A case of identity

El Greco

Mark 8: 27-33

Jesus and his disciples set out
for the villages of Caesarea Philippi.
Along the way he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that I am?”
They said in reply,
“John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others one of the prophets.”
And he asked them,
“But who do you say that I am?”
Peter said to him in reply,
“You are the Christ.”
Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.
He began to teach them
that the Son of Man must suffer greatly
and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed, and rise after three days.
He spoke this openly.
Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples,
rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

I remember a priest in my seminary days saying to our class, “Gentlemen, you know more about who Jesus is than the Apostles did.” We were all momentarily taken aback by that observation. Yet, in light of our Gospel today from Mark, it may well be so. I would not place myself among the Apostles in privilege but perhaps in awareness of knowing the nature of Jesus and his impact on history, his statement is true. I'm not assuming to be equal to the Apostles by any means but think for a moment.

Jesus asks the question today: “Who do people say I am?” They answer with a variety of opinions: John the Baptist, Elijah the prophet or one of the other prophets. But the question Jesus poses then becomes more personal, “Who do YOU say I am?”

How would you answer that question? We have the benefit of 2,000 years of theological exploration, the writings of the Doctors of the Church, the testimony of saints and the shed blood of martyrs. We have records of hundreds of Pope’s who have lead this Church of Jesus Christ over the centuries as both saints and sinners. We have our own Church experience, the Scriptures of the New Testament, and the definitive truth about Jesus we profess in the Nicene Creed each Sunday: “God from God; light from light; true God from true God . . . consubstantial with the Father . . .” That’s what we have and more. No other name has made an impact on human history more than Jesus Christ.

What did the Apostles have? None of that. There is no doubt these twelve chosen men were puzzled by Jesus at times. He was mysterious. Although he is divinity and humanity joined as one, all they could see was his humanness. Yet, Peter blurts forth, “You are the Christ!” And so Jesus is the Christ – the Messiah. Then it seems to turn a bit ugly when Jesus castigates Peter: “Get behind me Satan!” Peter’s limited understanding of Jesus as Messiah is misguided; a temptation for Jesus to abandon his mission and bask in the glory of an earthly king and ruler. Not to embrace his ultimate mission to endure the cross and resurrection. “Satan” is not Peter but is the opinion Peter is expressing in apparently offering Jesus a bit of a tongue lashing when he begins to speak of suffering and rejection.

The rest was left to further definition as the Holy Spirit moved history forward from that time to ours.

But, who is Jesus to you? That is a question posed in every age. Yet, post resurrection inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Apostles went forth and proclaimed the good news of salvation to the world. They paid for it with their lives and laid the foundation of the Church as, One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. But, we have the benefit of so much more.

Maybe its time we examine our personal knowledge of Jesus Christ and search the Gospels, pray for guidance, make use of other sources such as a good Catholic newspaper or website, or take a little time and explore the Catholic Catechism. What ever may lead me to a deeper knowledge and love for the Lord should be our task.