Sunday, August 21, 2011
No Matter What You Say..."I AM"
With politicians positioning themselves to run for president in the coming year, the media will treat us to a steady diet of daily polls. The latest Rasmussen poll, Gallup poll, ABC News poll, or Zogby poll will be leading the evening news informing us about the opinions of the American public, especially about who should be president. And, it will all be broken down by race, by economic status and by age. We will learn which candidate middle class voters prefer, which candidate young voters prefer and who has the best chance of winning the so-called "swing states". When election day is finally over, the polling will still go on. We'll learn from the pollsters why people voted the way they did and how happy they were with their choice. Chances are most of us will never get a call from a pollster, but somehow they manage to figure out what we think and how we'll vote.
In today's gospel reading, Jesus takes a poll of his disciples. He wants to know what the people are saying about him, who they say he is. He wants to know if the authority of his teaching and the power of his miracles had convinced the people that he was the Messiah. But, from what the disciples could tell him, the people believed that he was no more than a prophet, no greater than Elijah, Jeremiah or John the Baptist.
Then, Jesus shocks them by turning the question on them: "Who do YOU say that I am?" We can imagine that some of the disciples were taken off guard and may have hung their heads, avoiding eye contact with Jesus because they weren't quite sure how to answer. It may have hurt Jesus to see many of his disciples not able to understand yet who he was. But, Simon, son of John, does not miss a beat. He boldly stands up and answers Jesus in front of everyone: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!" Simon Peter's profession of faith is bold because not only does he recognize Jesus to be the Messiah, the one who would save Israel, but because he also recognizes Jesus to be God himself - God made man.
Jesus, for his part, recognizes that Simon Peter's profession of faith was not something he had thought up on his own. It wasn't a result of Peter's thinking through the evidence and coming to a rational conclusion about who Jesus was. Rather, Jesus recognizes that Peter's profession of faith was a gift from God. God himself revealed to Peter who Jesus was: the Messiah and the Son of the Living God.
We wouldn't need to take a poll to tell us who the world thinks Jesus is. To the world, Jesus is just another good man. He is just another voice in the history of humanity, no different than Confucius, Mohammad or maybe even Nostradamus. In the world's eyes, it doesn't really matter if you believe in Jesus or believe in something or someone else. As they say, "It's all good." If you decide that Jesus isn't the one for you, you can find salvation somewhere else. To the world, it's all relative.
We know well what the world says about Jesus. But, the gospel turns the question on us. Who do WE say Jesus is? Who do I say Jesus is? Who do YOU say Jesus is? Is Jesus just another voice among many others throughout history; or, is Jesus THE voice of God the Father? Is Jesus just one way to salvation and everlasting life; or is Jesus THE way, the only way? Do we pick and choose the teachings of Jesus which we understand and agree with and ignore the rest; or do we believe that every word Jesus speaks is THE word of God which we must struggle to understand, to accept and to obey? And, do we believe that the Church Jesus built on Peter's profession of faith is necessary for our salvation; or do we think we can do it on our own.
What separated the disciples from the crowds of people who were merely interested in Jesus was ultimately the belief in Jesus as the Savior and the Son of God. What separates us from the world is the belief that Jesus is the only way to the Father, the only way to salvation and the only way to everlasting life. Like Simon Peter, our belief is a gift from the Father, a gift of faith. It was first given to us in our baptism and strengthened by our confirmation. It continues to be nourished through the Eucharist. Our faith is a precious gift because it makes our Lord and Savior Jesus alive in our hearts and active in our lives.
In his book, Mere Christianity, the great Christian author, C.S. Lewis writes that when it comes to Jesus there can be no middle ground. If Jesus is God as he claimed to be, then we must believe everything he said and obey everything he commanded us to do since it all comes from God himself. If Jesus is not God, then he is a blasphemer and a lunatic whom we must reject altogether. The gospel calls us to a decision today. If we believe that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God, will we love him with all our heart, all our mind and all our strength? Will we commit our lives to him and live as he commanded?
As we approach the body and blood of Christ in this Mass today, let us join with Saint Peter in professing our faith and reaffirming our commitment to Jesus by saying: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!"