Who am I? Who are you?
Twelfth Sunday of the year. fr Isidore Clarke challenges us to see how we respond to Christ’s question to his apostles.
Today’s Gospel marks a crucial turning point in Jesus’ mission. He’d completed his work in Galilee and was about to journey to Jerusalem and His Passion. In preparation Jesus prayed and then asked the apostles two vital questions. What did people make of Him? What did they, what do we, make of Him? In fact today’s Gospel is not just about Jesus’ identity, but also ours, as His followers. It was essential that we should get that right if we were to follow Him and continue His mission.
The Jewish understanding of the Scriptures had led them to expect the promised Messiah to be a triumphant king, who would free God’s people from the tyranny of evil, including Roman occupation. His peace would reign gloriously throughout the land. But Jesus needed to teach the apostles to see His mission in a much harsher light. The Messiah would fulfil the role of the Suffering Servant of the Lord, as prophesied by Isaiah. He would be despised, rejected, suffer a cruel death, but would rise triumphantly from the grave. Since that interpretation was overlooked in Jewish Messianic expectations, it’s not surprising the apostles were horrified and found it unacceptable.
So today’s Gospel starts by removing misunderstandings about Jesus’ identity and mission, and concludes by defining our identity in relation to Him. He asks each one of us, ‘Who do you think I am, what do I mean to you? For each of us there’s the temptation to cast Him, and our relationship with Him, in a mould of our own designing. It would be so much more comfortable for us to have a cosy undemanding relationship with Jesus, one which didn’t challenge our sense of values and the way we live. But, like Peter, we must learn to accept and welcome Jesus on his own terms. Like Peter we must allow Jesus to lead us to the glory of the resurrection, by way of the cross. For Jesus, Peter and for us there’s no gain without pain!
Once Jesus had explained what he was like He then told us what we, His followers, must be like. We, too, must take up our crosses and follow Him. Each one of us will have his or her own cross to carry, and that will vary from time to time. Whatever our particular cross we, like Jesus, must lose ourselves in generous self-giving, rather being self-centred in trying to grab as much as possible for ourselves. Serving other people’s interests rather than our own will bring out the very best in us. Each day we must die to sin and rise to new life. That involves repenting for the sin’s we’ve already committed, and then resisting temptations to sin in the future. Following Christ is certainly demanding, but for Jesus and for us the way of the cross leads to eternal happiness and glory. That makes it all worthwhile.
As Jesus asks each of us, ‘Who do you say I am?’ He expects much more than a name or title. He tells us it’s not enough to say, ‘Lord, Lord’ and claim a nodding acquaintance with Him. He wants to know what he really means to us. That’s a question we must all ask ourselves. And the answer is to be found not in words but in the way we follow Him in our daily lives.
It’s worth noting that today’s Gospel tells us Jesus prayed before setting out for Jerusalem and the cross. He knew that He would only have the courage and strength to face His Passion if He asked His heavenly Father for assistance. And we, His followers, were included in His prayers before He told us that we must take up our crosses and follow Him. He realised that without God’s help the burden would be too great for us. But with God’s assistance we can overcome any difficulty and share in Christ’s victory of the cross. But, like Him, we, too, must pray for strength -otherwise we will be overwhelmed and crushed.
Readings: Zechariah 12:10-11,13.1 | Galatians 3:26-29 | Luke 9:18-24
The image above is from Leicester Cathedral.