“Who do you say that I am?” It seems like one of those “fish-or-cut-bait” moments, doesn’t it? Peter and the disciples have been with Jesus several years now. They have heard the sermons, listened to Jesus open up the deeper meaning of the Commandments, witnessed the miracles large and small, seen all the people healed, restored, and heard the amazing words of forgiveness and love. Wouldn’t it seem as though they have had enough time to know Jesus in a deep, intimate, and personal way?
“Who do you say that I am?” I am not sure what the other disciples were thinking, pondering or what answer they were formulating, but Peter steps right up and responds: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Short, sweet, succinct and …. What more could one say? It is the perfect answer. It is the answer that even now we are tempted to use, falling back on religious language we have inherited, language we know so well, words we could recite it in our sleep. And sometimes I wonder if we give enough thought and attention to the question and the answer. Maybe we are just so used to the answer, or maybe we are a little timid wondering if our own answer would hold water, pass muster, or be bodacious enough.
Yet today’s gospel raises up the question for each of us to consider: “Who do you say that Jesus is?” Don’t use Peter’s answer; take your time and consider your own response. In fact, at the end of this homily we will do exactly that, take some time – few quiet moments to start forming our own response.
I think “start” is the correct word to use. The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke noted that some questions are such that they have to be lived so that one day in the future, you might well live your way into the complete answer.
Maybe some are wondering, “well…pastor that sounds kinda’ fuzzy.” Afterall, it is a straightforward question which has an approved, creedal answer. It is a “heart-of-our-faith question, requiring absolute certainty and conviction. Jesus is our Savior. Our Lord. Our Redeemer. Our King. There’s nothing ‘unsolved’ about Jesus; the Son of God isn’t a murder mystery. He’s the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” (Debi Thomas)
But you know…we are not unfamiliar with straightforward question which have an expected answer requiring absolute certainty and conviction. Think about it! You have spent several years with your significant other, opening up to them, revealing more and more of yourself even as they do the same for you. You have shared moments of love, tenderness, and forgiveness too! Then comes the straightforward question: “Will you marry me?”
Hopefully the answer is “yes,” and boom!… there is nothing else to know. The question and answer were both wrapped in absolute certainty and conviction that this was the love of a lifetime. “I love you with all my life. I would die for you….” Of course, this is the love language we have inherited… words we know so well we can say them on the spur of the moment. And that’s ok because at the moment of the proposal, isn’t all known, all revealed, all uncovered? … ahhhhh…, not really.
Couples that have married a while can tell you there is more to be revealed on each and every day after the proposal…after the wedding … after the first child…. After everything… In listening to stories from couples of long marriages, the language is different from the language used by fiancés. A new vocabulary arises that does not simply speak of the promise of love. It speaks of the trust and the experience of love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:7)
Who do you say that I am? “The Love of my life” – it has one meaning at the moment of the marriage proposal. It is a different meaning 55 years into a life together. (Happy Anniversary, Rich and Carol!) They have lived the question and grown more deeply into the answer.
St. Peter had the same experience. This week he provides the succinct perfect answer. Next Sunday he will be on the hot seat when he suggests diverting Jesus from his destiny in Jerusalem. Jesus “turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.’” St. Peter falls in line and follows Jesus, defends Jesus, denies Jesus, is restored and forgiven – and every day lives the question far beyond the perfect credal answer. “I love you with all my life. I would die for you….” and St Peter does dying a martyr’s death.
For now, feel free to use St. Peter’s answer – it’s a good one! But begin to live the question, “Who do you say that I am.” Live it fully, deeply. Live it until it resonates within you, until you feel the love of Christ. Trust in that love, knowing that in its power you can bear all thing, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things.
Who do you say that I am? It is the question for a lifetime.