Sunday, September 16, 2012

Who do you say that I am?

NOTE: I'm trying something new this week. I've included an audio recording of my homily.  Let me know what you think. "Who do you say that I am?"


One day the famous Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were on a camping trip. As they lay sleeping one night, Holmes woke Watson and said, “Watson, look up into the sky and tell me what you see.” Watson said, “I see millions of stars.” Holmes asked, “And what does that tell you?” Watson replied, “Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Theologically, it tells me that God is great and that we are small in comparison. Meteorologically, it tells me that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. And what does it tell you Holmes?” To which Holmes answered, “It tells me that someone stole our tent.”

A simple question can often elicit some very different answers. In our Gospel today, Jesus asks a seemingly simple question, “Who do you say that I am?” Mark’s Gospel is 16 chapters long and today we have reached the exact middle of it at the end of Chapter eight.  Mark has carefully recorded what people have been saying about Him up to this point. They say, “What is this?” They say, “Who then is this that even wind and sea obey him?”  They say, “He is possessed by Beelzebul.” They say, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” or “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead.” or “He is Elijah.” Quite simply, up until now, they just didn’t get it; they didn’t understand or see who Jesus really is.  And, now, right in the middle of Mark, Jesus turns the question on them.  “Who do you say that I am?”  Scripture scholars tell us that with this question, we have reached the core, the hinge, the heart the Gospel of Mark, not just the middle. Everything that happens in the first half of Mark is leading up to this question, and everything that flows in the second half seeks to answer it.

Up to this point, Mark has been preparing for the revelation of Jesus' full and true identity as the Messiah. So, when Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” all of heaven is silent, listening intently to how they will answer. And when Peter answers, “You are the Christ,” the angels are dancing and the heavenly choir is resounding, the saints in glory are cheering and the confetti is flying. They get it! They see Him “as He is.” “You are the Christ.” 
With that recognition, everything in their lives will flow from that moment, from that answer and what it means to recognize and follow Jesus.  It will take them from here to the Last Supper, to the Crucifixion, to the Resurrection and beyond.  To spread the faith to the corners of the earth; to live this life of love and joy and compassion and caring – to a degree that the world had never seen before; not like this.  That answer to that simple question would take them all the way to Heaven.

I think that this seemingly simple question serves a similar role in the life of every believer; in our lives today.  It is interesting to note the setting in which Jesus proposes this question to his disciples.  Mark told us that this was in Ceasarea Philippi.  This was a city in northern Galilee near the beginning of the Jordan River.  It is a beautiful area, lush and full of vegetation and running water.  But, in Ceasarea Philippi is a shrine that was dedicated to the Greek god Pan, a god of nature, animals and the great outdoors.  This shrine is carved into a high cliff, along with a number of other niches which held the statues of other Greek and Roman gods and goddesses.  And it was in this setting – a venue marked by devotion to a variety of false gods – that Jesus asks these most important questions: “Who do people say that I am?” and “Who do you say that I am?” 

Jesus doesn’t ask the question in a properly holy setting.  He doesn’t pose the question in the Temple; or after a reading from Isaiah like we had today that points to the Messiah.  He asks it in the midst of a place that honors everything but Him; that worships everything but the One True God.  It is there, that He says “Who do you say that I am?”  It is there that He says, essentially, now is the time to make a choice.  In the midst of all of these competing things; these competing gods; these competing idols that surround you – who will you say that I am?  What does it mean for me to be Christ for you?

We know from the Gospels that many found Jesus’ teaching to hard to accept. They walked away from Him; walked away from the Visitation of God before them; ultimately walked away from the salvation, eternity and truest happiness that Jesus was offering them through that simple question “Who do you say that I am?”
We know that our times pose many of the same challenges as the time of Jesus.  We, too, live in a Ceasarea Philippi – a place that honors too many false gods; too many false idols; each of them demanding our worship; our very lives.  There are too many today who answer Jesus question by not by saying, “You are the Christ,” but by saying, “You’re interesting.  I like what I read, but I really don’t have time for you” or saying, “The way you want me to live is just too difficult” or by simply saying nothing and instead of choosing Christ, by choosing the other idols of money, material goods, power, popularity, prestige and so on.  The famed theologian Richard Niebuhr said it this way, “We desire a God without wrath to bring people without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through a Christ without a Cross.”

But that just isn’t how it works.  Once you see Jesus as He is; once you know Him as He wants to be known; once you name yourself His disciple, His follower; once you can say, “You are the Christ;” from that moment He asks one thing of you – everything.  The disciples knew this; chose this.  They also knew there was nothing better in this world or the next than to give yourself totally to the same God who has given Himself totally to you.  And Jesus raises the question again today, “Who do you say that I am?” What will your answer be?
Let me leave you with the words of our Holy Father Pope Benedict from the closing Mass for World Youth Day in Madrid last summer.  He said, “Christ is asking you the same question which he asked the Apostles: ‘Who do you say that I am?’  Respond to him with generosity and courage, as befits…hearts like your own.  Say to him: ‘Jesus, I know that you are the Son of God, who have given your life for me.  I want to follow you faithfully and to be led by your word.  You know me and you love me.  I place my trust in you and I put my whole life into your hands.  I want you to be the power that strengthens me and the joy which never leaves me.’”

Who do you say that I am?  

May the Lord give you peace.

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