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?” Up to this point in Mark’s Gospel there have been many answers to that question. 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?” They said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead,” or “He is Elijah.” They have had many answers.
Up until now, they haven’t quite gotten a handle on just who Jesus really is. Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” and 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 Jesus as He is. “You are the Christ.”
And this question of who Jesus is reflects right back to us today. 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 you? What are you 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?
The point 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. Everything in our lives flows from that recognition of who Jesus is for us. It calls us to spread our faith; to live a life of love and joy, compassion and caring – to a degree that the world has never seen before; to not do just “enough” but to do the extraordinary – in and with and through 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 marked by devotion to false gods. It is there that Jesus asks His most important question. He didn’t ask in the Temple; or after a reading from Isaiah pointing to the Messiah. He asks, who do you say that I am, 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 to be because of Me?
This question of our identity as followers of Jesus, and as His church, could not be more important than it is right now. After all, scandal arises when who we say we are and what we do are at odds with each other. We find ourselves in this challenging moment precisely because people who said they follow Jesus acted in ways that couldn’t be further from Him. And in the midst of this moment surrounded by false Christians because of scandal, Jesus asks the question again – who do you say that I am?
There are many people, maybe some of us, who ask in the light of scandal what does it mean to be a Catholic? What is my identity as a member of this church? Pope Francis speaking in Sicily today said, “Life speaks louder than words. The person who witnesses to hope does not indicate what hope is, but who hope is. Christ is our hope.”
My friends, as we seek to call the church once again to holiness, let us remember that Jesus is asking us today the same old question: who do you say that I am? I pray that our response will be generous and courageous, that it will be compassionate and prophetic. Generous in showing love to everyone. Courageous in standing up for justice everywhere – especially for those who are victims. That it will be compassionate in the way we deal with those who have been wounded by our world, even wounded by members of the church. That we will be prophetic in our proclamation of the Gospel so that the world will once again know clearly who we are as followers of Jesus, and what we stand for. That this scandal does not make our faith, or our church, irrelevant – in fact, it makes it needed more than ever.
I pray that when tempted to walk away, we instead roll up our sleeves and fight for what we believe in, fight for who we are because of our faith in Jesus, fight for the church – from the Pope to us in the pews – to be true to who we say we are by what we say and do.
Lord Jesus, you are the Christ, the One who has come to save the world. In Your love, You have called us and saved us. Let us be true to Your word, true to Your Gospel, so that all who see us will see You. Renew us today in Your love. Renew us today in Your mission. Renew us today, Lord, in Your word, so that what we say and what we do reflect only You and Your love for the world. May we stand for holiness, goodness, truth, and justice, and may Jesus strengthen us so that our lives will speak louder than our words.
Who do you say that I am? You are the Christ.
May the Lord give you peace.