Who Are You?

Who Are You?

Twenty-Fourth Sunday of the Year. fr Malcolm McMahon shows us how our identity is to be found in our relationship with Jesus Christ.

I don’t think Jesus is having an identity crisis when he asks the question, ‘Who do people say I am?’ But in posing this question about himself he makes us ask the same question of ourselves.

Personal identity is a very modern issue, and people give very different answers when asked who they are. It is not uncommon for some people to describe themselves by their work or profession. It is by saying that they are a doctor or a labourer that we can discover all we need to know about them. We can guess at their education and their social background. We might imagine what kind of house they live in and which way they will vote.

Another way in which we identify ourselves is by our relationships. The television programme, ‘Who do you think you are?’ is very popular because we all want to know where we have come from, and somebody else’s history will stimulate an interest in our own story. Nevertheless the immediate relationships we have are probably more important than ancestors when determining exactly who we are. To say that you are a daughter, a sister and a mother, and a wife and then to name the relatives situates you in a particular family from which you give and receive life. The family context also enables you to look to the future, especially through your children.

Of course there are many kinds of relationships which not only are relevant to us in the here and now, and draw on the past but look towards the future. An obvious one is relationship between teacher and child, but there are many others.

In answering Jesus’s questions his disciples make several points about his identity. To suggest that he is John the Baptist is an easy mistake to make. We learn from the Fourth Gospel that John was preaching at the same time as Jesus, and stories about John would get mixed up with those of Jesus. To say he was Elijah suggests that Jesus is not only a prophet like John but also one who is ushering in the end of time because Elijah who went to heaven in a fiery chariot is expected to put in an appearance at the end of the world. Just being a prophet also says a lot about how God was perceived as speaking through Jesus. But when Peter said that Jesus was the Christ, the anointed one of God, he was claiming much more.

It was hoped that the Christ would liberate the Jewish people from the oppression they were suffering under occupation from the Romans, but Jesus was not that kind of liberator. He came to liberate us from sin and to make us his people; and that is achieved by following him. Following Jesus through thick and thin, living according to his teaching, is not an easy option.

He promises us everlasting life but it is only by losing the one that we have will we save our own life. It means living with Christ and that means rejection by others just as much today as it meant in Jesus’ time. By living the Gospel we will be going against current trends and our values will not be those of other people all the time. Undoubtedly this means that we will be have to stand up for what we believe, and this will provoke a reaction against us. Being a prophet like John the Baptist or Elijah, calling people to see truth in the midst of the all the views and opinions of the modern world is far from making life easy for yourself, but it is the way to proclaim the kingdom we pray for in the Lord’s prayer. That is what giving up our life in order to save it means. But one thing we can be very clear about is who we are. That can be quite exciting, as there should be no identity crisis for Jesus’s followers. No longer will we be searching for meaning in the dark. We can follow the Christ and know for certain that if we are faithful to him then we have a future that extends beyond this life. We can now describe ourselves in a new way. No longer do our profession, job, postcode, and status or salary matter in the same way. The values of the world have been turned upside down so that we can see the world the right way up, that is with the eyes of Jesus.

So if anyone asks you who you are, you can reply, ‘I am a child of the most high God, the brother or sister of Jesus Christ, and I am heir to eternal life’.

That should clear up any questions of identity for them and for you.


Readings: Isaiah 50:5-9|James 2:14-18|Mark 8:27-35

fr. Malcolm McMahon O.P. is the Archbishop of Liverpool. From 1992 to 2000 he was Prior Provincial of the English Dominicans, and from 2000 to 2014 he was the Bishop of Nottingham.