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 elicit very different answers. In our Gospel today, Jesus asks a simple question, “Who do you say that I am?” Mark’s Gospel is 16 chapters long and today we have reached the middle of it. Mark has carefully recorded what people have been saying about Jesus up to this point. They have said in confusion, “What is this?” They have said, “Who is this that even wind and sea obey him?” They said, “He is possessed.” They said, “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?” or “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead,” or “He is Elijah.”
But answering that question isn’t getting an “A” on the theology exam. Understanding who Jesus is, tells us who we are. Jesus asks “Who do people say that I am?” because what He really wants to get at is – Once you know who I am, who are we? What are we about? His words are not academic or theological, they are relational and loving. And, today they are meant for us to think about who Jesus is and in turn, who are we and what are we about as people who follow Him?
And, we all reflected on this earlier this week – whether we knew it or not. It was perhaps that moment when we first saw the heart-wrenching photo of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, his lifeless body in a red t-shirt and shorts washed up on a Turkish beach, just one of 6.5 million Syrians displaced by the violent conflict in their homeland. We reflected on who we say Jesus is and who we are because of it when we thought about how that photo, how that story affects us. Whether or not their problem is our problem. Whether or not their suffering moved us to compassion; whether or not we see them as our brother and sister. This is how seeing Jesus as the Christ changes who we are too. Just look around the world. In Hungary, the treatment of these refugees has been questionable, at best. England will take 22,000 refugees; France and Germany 55,000; Ireland has set no limit. The U.S. will take 10,000. Pope Francis has called on every parish and religious house in Europe to take in a family. The Vatican itself will take two families. Who do you say that I am?
The point of this one example is that recognizing who Jesus is – “You are the Christ” – must have consequences to who we are and how we live and how we view the rest of the world. With that recognition, everything in our lives flows from that moment, from that answer and what it means to recognize and follow Jesus. It calls us to spread our faith; to live a life of love and joy and compassion and caring – to a degree that the world has never seen before; to do not just “enough” but to do the extraordinary – in Christ! The answer to that simple question will make all the difference in our lives and in the life of the world.
Mark told us today that Jesus asked His question in Ceasarea Philippi; a city with a shrines dedicated 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 His most important question. He didn’t ask the question in the Temple; or after a reading from Isaiah that points to the Messiah. He asks it in the midst of a place that worships everything except the One True God. 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 – here – that I am? And who will you choose be because of Me?
My friends, we know that we, too, live in a world that honors too many false gods; too many false idols; each of them demanding our worship; our very lives. There are far too many voices that encourage us to worry only about ourselves; that name the other as foreign and dangerous and illegal and evil and not our problem. There are too many today who answer Jesus question 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 at all and instead of choosing Christ, choosing the easier route.
Let me leave you with the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict from a few years ago, “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.