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Gospel Reading: Lk 9:18-24
Once when Jesus was praying in solitude, and the disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They said in reply, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.’ ” Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said in reply, “The Christ of God.” He rebuked them and directed them not to tell this to anyone.
He said, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
The Gospel contains two key questions Jesus asks his disciples in an interesting sequence.
First, while at prayer, Jesus asks: “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
A variety of responses follows: 1) John the Baptist [Jesus followed John in his ministry and continued to preach]; 2) Elijah [the way Jesus taught and acted made him a prime candidate for Elijah come-back-to-earth]; and 3) a prophet of old [Jesus preached repentance and conversion]. These responses are plausible, but they reflect a very shallow faith.
Then Jesus puts a direct question to his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” What is your personal response? Moved by a special God-given grace, Peter replies: “The Christ of God.” Then Jesus, after cautioning the disciples not to tell anyone, challenges them to take up their cross daily and follow him.
We may be more familiar with the Marcan version of this same scene. Luke skips the narrative where Peter objects to Jesus’ prediction of his death. Jesus strongly rebukes Peter, saying: “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Mk 8:33).
Whatever version is followed [Mt 16:13-17; Mk 8:27-33; Lk 9:18-24], the core question remains the same: Who do you say that I am? This perennial question is addressed to the disciples of Jesus’ time – and to us, his modern-day followers. Who do we say Jesus is – not by our words alone, but by our deeds and lifestyle?
The authenticity of our lived example of who Jesus is for us can be enhanced if we challenge ourselves with some additional, probing questions. Ask yourself: Who am I? What kind of a person am I? Am I genuinely compassionate, honest, and self-sacrificing? Ask yourself: Where did I come from? Who knit me together, body and soul, in my mother’s womb?
In addition, ask yourself: What am I doing here in this life? What is the very purpose of my existence here on earth? Finally, ask yourself: Where am I going? What, in God’s plan, is my final, eternal destination?
Can you grasp the connection between this series of probing questions and Jesus’ pivotal question: “Who do you say that I am”? The manner in which we live our lives as Christian disciples is, in fact, our primary answer to Jesus’ identity. Concretely, who is Jesus for me? Am I willing to take up my cross daily? Is my answer translated into daily deeds of Christ-like service?
Finally, let us take the very same probing question of the gospels and turn it around. We may address God our Father in prayer and say: “O Lord, my God, who do you say that I am?” If God were responding, what answer might we expect?
God A probably say: “You are my beloved child, my disciple. Through baptism, you are united intimately with me. I know your weaknesses and sins. Follow me by carrying the cross with me. I love and forgive you. You are mine.”