Jesus Really Is?
Today, at the Liturgy of the Word, Priests and Deacons proclaim the following encounter between Jesus and Peter as it is recorded in the Gospel of St. Matthew:
Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mt. 16:13-20)
The same question is asked of each one of us – WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM? It is not just once – but continually. It is meant to inform the response of our entire life. How we answer that question determines who we will become and how we live. It is a question which cannot be answered indirectly, or halfheartedly. It is not enough to rely on what – some say. The question is profoundly personal as well as public. Who is Jesus Christ to ME?
The first time I read the masterful book entitled Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis was when I was a very young man, grappling with this very question. Lewis wrote:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.
He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.
You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
TODAY, that question is presented to you and me – once again – as we hear this Gospel proclaimed. Who is Jesus Christ, for me?
There is another biblical text I would like to share with you. It is taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians,
Brothers and sisters: As God is faithful, our word to you is not “yes” and “no.” For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was proclaimed to you by us, Silvanus and Timothy and me, was not “yes” and “no, ” but “yes” has been in him.
For however many are the promises of God, their Yes is in him; therefore, the Amen from us also goes through him to God for glory. But the one who gives us security with you in Christ and who anointed us is God; he has also put his seal upon us and given the Spirit in our hearts as a first installment. (2 Corinthians 1:18-22)
As a Deacon of the Catholic Church I go from the ambo to the altar and then into the street – into a world filled with disappointment and pain. In those streets – and in that world – I have the privilege of giving to others what has been freely given to me, the great gift of God, His “Yes” – in and through His Son Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the One in whom all the promises of God find their fulfillment and response. He is the answer to every human question, the fulfillment of every authentic human need, the balm of healing for every human wound, the satisfaction of every authentic human desire, and the way to authentic human freedom and flourishing. He is the Christ, the Messiah, the One who saves us from sin and its effects and saves us for a new way of living, forever. .
One of the obstacles I find in giving Jesus to others is the wall which is so often built around human hearts and minds. There are many misconceptions about religious faith. So often in ministry, one finds oneself not being asked to actually respond to someone’s heartfelt hunger for God, but rather, being subjected to automatic replay messages from their past.
The word “Gospel” literally means “Good News”. There is Good News! God has revealed Himself to us. He is not hidden. The word “revelation” literally means to “unveil”, to make known. This is what has occurred, is occurring, and will occur in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the Self-Revelation of God.
This God who fashioned the Universe is not simply a principle to be reflected upon, leading us to a set of propositions. He has been manifested, unveiled to us. The Living Word , the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, has become one like us in all things but sin. (Hebrews 4:15) so that we can be recreated anew and, by grace, become like Him.
In and through Jesus Christ, we are reconciled to the Father and can enter into a relationship as “sons and daughters in the Son” which places us in the very communion of Trinitarian love. It is in receiving this Divine Self-manifestation of God, hearing this “Yes” who bears the name jesus- the One who saves His people – and believing in Him, that we find the very meaning of our own lives. Then, as we are baptized into His Body, the Church, we enter into an entirely new way of life. faith.
As a young man, I began the practice of law, a profession that provided a backdrop for decades of my life. I was an assistant prosecuting attorney in Steubenville, Ohio. The chief prosecutor, my boss, was a truly good man, in search of life’s deeper meaning. He was also a non-practicing Jew who had lost touch with the great faith of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Yet, his upbringing had planted a hunger for God in him.
There was no pretense in this man. He was often misunderstood by others. His professional competence, though quite effective, led to his developing an external air that others often misread as haughty. I knew better. One morning, right before I was to appear in Court, I walked in on my friend in a sad and vulnerable moment.
Circumstances in his personal life had left him with no more wind in his sails. He was depressed and groping for a rudder. I empathized with Him and listened as he unpacked his pain. At the end of this precious moment, this meeting of persons, he looked right into my eyes and shared words that I will never forget: “Keith, if I were ever to believe as you do, God would have to become a human being, a person, as real as you are sitting in front of me.” I responded, “He has done just that my friend.” I then proceeded to share with him God’s “Yes”, Jesus Christ. That experience deepened my lifelong passion to be able to give God’s “Yes” to others.
That is what St. Paul is saying. He is addressing very real people in the church at Corinth. People just like you and me. They were struggling to keep their faith alive in a culture that militated against its claims. Sound familiar? They were also at odds with one another, in a nascent Christian community beset with discord.
He kept his message wonderfully simple, reminding them that in Jesus Christ they could find the Father’s “Yes” to the deepest longing of their hearts -that in and through Jesus Christ, they were also called to give themselves back to God, and, in so doing, they became the bearers of the Gospel for others. That was the message that I shared with my friend. That is our message to the world of our own age.
This holy exchange, where God gives Himself to us and we reciprocate by giving ourselves to Him, forms the foundation of all of the wonderful letters of St. Paul. He understood it well because he lived it. That’s right; He lived in the “Yes”, the holy exchange, and was being transformed in its fire.
In Jesus Christ we hear and see the “Yes” of God to our deepest human need and aspiration. As we say yes to Him, we are made new. Our “Yes” in response to His Yes, can lead us into a dynamic new way of living. In the words of the Apostle Paul, “Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.” ( 2 Cor. 5:17)
Who Do You Say That He is – to you?
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