Have you noticed, Jesus asked a lot of 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 asked questions not to inform Himself, but to inform the person being questioned.
Remember that remarkable scene when the friends of a paralytic lowered him through the roof, hoping Jesus would heal him [Mk 2:1-12]. Jesus responds by saying,
“Child, your sins are forgiven” [Mk 2:5].Now this really bothered a group of scribes who witnessed the scene and they whispered among themselves, accusing Jesus of blasphemy. So He simply asked them:
“Why are you thinking such things in your hearts? [Mk 2:8]Jesus knew the answer, but He wanted the scribes to think about what they were doing, to examine their own consciences.
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 [Jn 6:60-71]. Jesus turned to the Apostles and asked,
“Do you also want to leave?” [Jn 6:67]Peter responded, and with a question of his own:
“Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" [Jn 6:68].Yes, Jesus asked a lot of questions, and in today’s passage from Luke, He did it again.
The brief dialogue with the apostles took place at Caesarea Philippi – which was a very pagan place. Nearby were temples devoted to the Syrian god, Baal, and to the Greek god, Pan, the god of the wild, of desolate places. And Herod’s son, Phillip the Tetrarch, built a temple there celebrating the divinity of the Roman emperor, Augustus…hence the name, Caesarea Philippi – Caesar and Philip.
|Ruins of Pagan Shrine: Caesarea Philippi|
“Who do the crowds say that I am?” [Lk 9:18]Such a simple, non-threatening question – just tell me what folks are saying. Take a poll, sample public opinion, try a focus group, let me know what the man or woman in the street thinks about me. Today he probably would have said, “Have you Googled my name? What popped up?”
Oh, yes, a lot popped up…lots of things. And so they told Him. After all, they had no stake in it. They were only passing along the opinions of others. Jesus, of course, knew the answer, for He too had heard the crowds. He knew full well what the people said about Him: He is a prophet, John the Baptist or Elijah or Jeremiah, returned from the dead. And this is exactly what the Apostles told Him.
But, again, Jesus didn’t ask the question to hear what He already knew. No, He wanted the Apostles to question themselves, because their answer would determine their future. Once they came to a firm understanding of Jesus’ real identity, and once they accept the truth of that answer, their lives will change forever. And so Jesus led them into the future and asked them:
“But who do you say that I am?” [Lk 9:20]Again Peter showed the way. Peter, the de facto leader of the twelve, the boaster who hid his weakness behind a façade of bluster, the disciple who would shed tears of shame in the face of his threefold denial – yes, it’s this Peter who answered by saying:
“The Christ of God” [Lk 9:20].In Matthew’s Gospel his words are more expressive:
“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” [Mt 16:16].Yes, the Holy Spirit speaks through Peter: You are the promised One, the One sent by God. This is tacitly confirmed by Jesus when He told them to keep quiet about it.
|Jesus with Peter and the Apostles at Caesarea Philippi|
"...they shall look on him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him” [Zec 12:10].But He also gave them a glimpse of hope: on the third day He would be raised. Of course the disciples understood nothing of this. The very thought of a murdered Messiah simply didn’t compute.
But there’s more…because discipleship has consequences. Jesus led 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.
Jesus wasn’t looking for 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…to you and to me.
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 hardships, those sorrows, those personal calamities, those people that conspire to make my life so difficult?
Yes, Jesus replies, if you would be my disciple. As Paul reminded us:
"For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” [Gal 3:27]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 who walks 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, when, like Peter, we must make our own confession. You see, brothers and sisters, we are called to witness. We are called to spread the word about the Word…to let the world know our answer. And along with that answer comes a promise, the promise of eternal life beyond our imagining.
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, dear friends, just the testimony of our lives, just being the witness Jesus Christ calls each of us to be…as He asks us:
“Who do you say that I am?