Readings: Zed 12:10-11;13:1 ;Ps 63; Gal 3:26-29; Lk 9:18-24
Something we notice when reading the Gospels is that Jesus always seems to be asking questions. Now, when you and I ask a question, we’re usually looking for an answer. We want to know something we didn’t know before. But Jesus asks questions not to inform Himself, but to inform the person being questioned.
For example, I know you all remember that remarkable scene when the friends of a paralytic lower him through the roof, hoping Jesus would heal him. Jesus responds by saying, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” Now this really bothers a group of scribes who witness the scene and they whisper among themselves, accusing Jesus of blasphemy. Jesus simply turns and asks them: “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts? Yes, Jesus knows the answer, but He wants the scribes to think about what they’re doing, to examine their own consciences.
And remember that wonderful incident in Jericho when Jesus confronted Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, and asked him: “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus simply responded, “Master, I want to see.” No surprise there. But then Jesus says, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”
Jesus said nothing about healing his physical blindness, but instead addressed the state of Bartimaeus’ soul. Jesus didn’t say, “I have healed you.” No, He said, “…your faith has saved you.” Bartimaeus received his sight immediately, both his physical and his spiritual sight; for we’re told he stayed with Jesus and followed Him on the way.
And then there’s that scene in John’s Gospel when almost all of His disciples left Him because they couldn’t accept His teaching on the Eucharist. Jesus asked the Apostles, “Do you also want to leave?” It’s Peter who responded, and with a question of his own: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
Yes, Jesus is always asking questions, and in today’s reading from Luke, He again questioned the Apostles. This brief dialogue took place at Caesarea Philippi – not a Jewish place, but a pagan place. Nearby were temples devoted to the pagan gods, to the Syrian god, Baal, and to the Greek god, Pan, the god of the wild, of nature. There was even a temple there celebrating the divinity of the Roman emperor. In the midst of all this, surrounded by false gods made by men in their own image and likeness, Jesus confronts the twelve and asks: “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
Such a simple, non-threatening question – just tell me what folks are saying. Take a poll, sample public opinion, let me know what the man or woman in the street thinks about me. Today he probably would have said, “Did you Google my name? What popped up?”
Oh, yes, all kinds of things popped up…lots of things. And so they told Him. After all, they had no stake in it. They had only to pass along the opinions of others.
Once again, Jesus knows the answer, for He too has certainly heard the crowds. He knows full well what the people say about Him: He is a prophet, John the Baptist or Elijah or Jeremiah, returned from the dead. And this exactly is what the Apostles tell Him.
But, again, Jesus didn’t ask the question to hear what He already knows. No, He wants the Apostles to question themselves about His identity…because their answer will determine their future. Once they come to a firm understanding of exactly who Jesus is, and once they accept the truth of that answer, their lives will change forever. And so Jesus leads them into the future by asking them: “But who do you say that I am?”
And again it’s Peter who shows the way. Peter, the de facto leader of the twelve, the boaster who hides his weakness behind a façade of bluster, the disciple who will shed tears of shame in the face of his threefold denial – yes, it’s this Peter who can answer by saying: “The Christ of God.” In Matthew’s Gospel his words are slightly different: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Filled with the Spirit, Peter exclaims, “You are the promised One, the One sent by God.” It’s confirmed when Jesus tells them to keep quiet. And He goes on to tell them what will happen to Him: He, the long-awaited Messiah, will be rejected by those who await Him. The One sent by God will suffer greatly and be killed.
As Zechariah prophesied in our first reading, “they shall look on him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him.” But He also gives them a glimpse of hope: on the third day He will be raised.
Of course the disciples understand nothing of this. The very thought of a murdered Messiah simply doesn’t compute. But there’s more…because discipleship has consequences. Jesus leads them into their own future, for they must follow Him, take the same path, a path that leads to the Cross. It’s here He introduces the great paradox of Christian life: that we will save our lives, only if we’re willing to risk losing our lives. And if we do, God will raise us just as He raised up His Son on the third day.
You see, Jesus was looking for more than a quick one-liner answer to His question. He was looking for an answer that lasts a lifetime. It wasn’t a question just for those first disciples, for Peter and that small band of followers. For Jesus turns to us as well…
“You there! Yes, you…Who do you say that I am?”
Deep down we all know what He means, don’t we? Do I really have to take up those crosses – those people, those hardships, those sorrows, those personal calamities – that conspire to make my life so difficult?
“Yes, if you would be my disciple.”
As Paul told us, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” To be “clothed in Christ” is to accept the cost of discipleship, to accept His invitation to love, to love as Jesus loved when He took up His cross. This is what it means to be a cross-bearer alongside Our Lord.
And so He continues to question us, “Who do you say that I am?” The question just hangs in the air, doesn’t it? It won’t go away, brothers and sisters. We can try to ignore it, drown it out with the sounds of our lives…but it remains, waiting for an answer.
Jesus doesn’t want opinions. He wants an answer: “Who do you say that I am?” There comes a time when we must answer this question, make our own confessions, as Peter did. But along with the question comes the promise of joy, the promise of eternal life beyond our imagining.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus is here with us right now, present in this gathering as he always is — the walking, talking, living presence of God in our lives. We have already listened to Him as He spoke to us through His Word, and in a few moments, He’ll be present on this Altar. When we join together and process to communion, when we extend our hands, when we eat and drink, will we be able to give him our final answer — no opinions, just the testimony of our lives. “Who do you say that I am?