Readings: Genesis 9:1-13; Psalm 102; Mark 8:27-33
The first question Jesus asks the disciples - 'who do they say I am?' - leaves them (and us) free to relate what others say about him, believers or unbelievers, students of history, philosophy or religion, without themselves (ourselves) ever becoming involved in an answer. But Jesus then turns and says, 'who do you say that I am?' This is a very different kind of question. It cannot be answered in a detached way. This second question confronts them, as it confronts us, with a decision about our way of life, about our faith: 'who do you believe this man was - and is?'
Peter answered for all the disciples when he said 'you are the Christ'. The Christ means the Messiah, the Anointed One, the chosen one of God promised in the Old Testament and passionately hoped for by the Jewish people. He would be a new David and a new Moses, a great leader who would restore the fortunes of the people and introduce a reign of peace and prosperity. In effect what Peter says is 'you are the one who will release us from our bonds, restore to us the fullness of life, and give us again a lively sense of being God's people'. We might say today, 'you are the healer, the teacher, the guide, the one who will enable us to find truth and freedom'.
Jesus then began to deepen his disciples' understanding of who he was, referring to himself as the 'son of man' and as the 'servant of the Lord'. It is as if Jesus said to Peter, 'yes, I am the Christ, but the fulfillment of that promise will be in a way that is radically different from anything that has been imagined up to this'. Or as if he said to us, 'yes, I am teacher, healer and guide, but in a way that explodes the limits of your expectations and opens up an unimagined and wonderful mystery'. Jesus is the one who teaches us what love is, not only as a doctrine but as a 'way' to be followed.
There is a deep paradox here. The way to his kingdom is through acceptance of suffering, rejection, and death. Anyone who becomes a servant of this Lord is indescribably weak, and yet incredibly strong, because he has placed his trust in the Lord. The one who saves his life loses it and the one who loses his life for his sake saves it. The one who dies will rise again. What can this mean? Strong is weak and weak is strong?
Jesus showed us that God is love - an infinite openness and concern for the other, enabling others to become themselves by allowing them to dwell in him. The love of God in human terms is Jesus Christ, the only Son of the Father, the Word become flesh, the savior of humankind.
To believe that Jesus is the Christ, the teacher, or the servant, means to follow him. We show what we really believe about Jesus by our works of love. So our answer to the question, 'who do you say that I am?', is given not only with our lips, or our pen, but, first and last, with our lives.
First published in the Sunday Letter, published by Rollebon Press, Tallaght, Dublin, for the 24th Sunday of the Year, 15 September 1991.