Who Does He Say You Are?
Who do people say that the Son of Man is? "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
The Apostles’ answer to Jesus’ question reflects their awareness of how He has been received throughout His journeys. These are the kindest of the answers to that question. From a good reading of the Gospels, we could also add that people say that Jesus is a troublemaker, “just the carpenter’s son,” a heretic, a blasphemer, someone in league with the devil. But all these answers say more about the people responding than they do about Jesus Himself.
When Jesus asks this question, He is not looking for people’s preferences; He is not trying to fit in or conform to others’ expectations; He is not surveying the crowds in order to give them what they want.
Instead, Jesus wants to know if people really know Him. He doesn’t necessarily care if people know “things” about Him. Rather, He wants to know if a relationship has been established; if there is something deeper than curiosity or identity politics at play. Jesus knows who He is. This question is for the Apostles, and it is more than a simple test to see if they are paying attention.
St. Peter responds for them all: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” A bold proclamation – and the correct answer. But there is more to that answer than just a gold star. Our recognition of Jesus’ identity has consequences for us – it’s not just about knowing “something” about Jesus; it is about knowing Him. And if we know Him, that means something for us and the way we are to live our lives.
A relationship is more than the facts. I have a relationship with my mom. But that would be the case even if I could not rattle off her biography, identify her birthdate, or tell you the color of her eyes. She is so much more than that – especially to me and my siblings. Our relationship with mom has shaped who we are; it has an effect in my life, even at this very moment when I am here and she is somewhere else. In a way, you know her because you know me. (She also happens to be a pretty awesome lady, but I am a little biased!)
So too with Jesus.
Those who see Jesus as a prophet or as a pop star in Israel at the time don’t fully “get Him.” They are more like “fans” than disciples. In fact, much of what they say about Him is driven by their desires and experiences, rather than by who He really is. Think of your own favorite image of Jesus: is it the Good Shepherd? Christ on the Cross? Sweet Baby Jesus in the manger? Hippie Jesus? White Jesus? Black Jesus? All of these carry a sense of who He really is, but they are all filtered through our own experience and needs.
Jesus wants us to know Him. This is why He turns that question personally to the Apostles: “Who to you say I am?”
And when we truly know Jesus, as Simon does, then He tells us who we are. God created you; the Father has a dream for you, just as you are, for eternity. From your conception in the womb, God has called you by name. Our lives – especially our Christian lives – are a process of discovering who that person is, that person whom God has created to be with Him forever. Jesus knows this too. Learning who we are is a matter of establishing a real relationship, a personal relationship with Jesus, and it is in Him that we learn our true identity, like as Simon did: “I say to you, you are Peter.”
We are here because we long for God. We have been created with this longing – to know God, and therefore to know that our lives have a purpose and a direction. For the Christian, that direction is found in Jesus, and in knowing Him we discover true meaning in life. St. Augustine famously recognized this in his Confessions, which opens with a beautiful reflection on the mystery of human life in the light of Christ.
Great are You, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is Your power, and of Your wisdom there is no end. And man, being a part of Your creation, desires to praise You — man, who bears about with him his mortality, the witness of his sin, even the witness that You resist the proud, — yet man, this part of Your creation, desires to praise You. You move us to delight in praising You; for You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You. Lord, teach me to know and understand which of these should be first: to call on You, or to praise You; and likewise to know You, or to call on You. But who calls upon You without knowing You? For he that knows You not may call upon You as other than You are. Or perhaps we call on You that we may know You. But how shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? Or how shall they believe without a preacher? And those who seek the Lord shall praise Him. For those who seek shall find Him, and those who find Him shall praise Him. Let me seek You, Lord, in calling on You, and call on You in believing in You; for You have been preached unto us. O Lord, my faith calls on You — that faith which You have imparted to me, which You have breathed into me through the incarnation of Your Son, through the ministry of Your preacher.
In this Mass – as in every Mass – we are invited into the Presence of Jesus, who is personally present to us in the Eucharist. When we receive Him, He speaks in us, He acts in us, He loves in us. It should be a regular part of our lives that we have conversations with Him; that we listen to His Word often; that we are nourished and loved by Him in the Sacraments. This is how we come to know Christ. And that is how we will also know ourselves as He knows us.