Pastor Column: Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 16, 2018
Msgr. Joseph Tracy, St. Stanislaus Parish
Dear friends/Mis queridos amigos,
In today’s gospel, Jesus asks the million dollar question: “who do people say that I am?” The disciples respond with the opinions they have heard. By this time in His public ministry, Jesus was creating quite a buzz throughout the region of Palestine. His apostles reply with the popular notions of who the average person thought of the Lord . . . some said He was like John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the great prophets of Israel. If that question were put to us in our day, I suspect our approach to answering would be the same. We would repeat what we heard in the break room or gathered around the water cooler, on social media, or what was whispered among our friends. Some might say Jesus was the best founder of a world religion; a good man who was concerned with people who were poor and sick; someone who made the lives of the destitute better by miraculous acts. Perhaps some might even Google, where they would find Jesus was “a first century preacher and religious leader, the central figure of Christianity.”
All good answers, but popular opinion is one thing, while what we believe deep down can be something much different. Jesus was not looking for public opinion when He asked the question. He wanted a more personal response, not one just from the mind, but also from the heart. Hopefully that answer would include some willingness to follow Him closely and imitate His ways. It was time for Jesus to test the apostle’s mettle as He approached Jerusalem, where he anticipated His death. Jesus knew He would suffer for who He was and what He was sent by the Father to accomplish. So He asks them to follow Him all the way to His death and resurrection. This was a test of their willingness to stay with Him through His death, and their acceptance of the suffering and sacrifice that would come to those who followed Him.
Peter’s reply “You are the Christ,” that is, the Messiah, is right on the mark. But Peter’s notion of a Messiah was a triumphant ruler; it lacked any notion of suffering. Perhaps this is the reason for the “Marcin secret” that Jesus repeatedly requests throughout this evangelist’s gospel. He did not want the apostles to tell anyone until they learned what kind of Messiah He would be . . . which was incredibly different from what they anticipated. Jesus had so much more to teach and show His apostles about His Messiahship. He did not want to be widely known as a miracle worker, or as a celebrity showman. They would have to learn more about Jesus before spreading work that He was the One anticipated by the people of Israel. Otherwise they would have gotten the message all wrong, and would have no understanding of what it meant when Jesus commanded His followers “to take up your cross and follow Me.” Some reflection by them on the section of Isaiah would be helpful in this growing knowledge. Here one meets the Suffering Servant of God” who prefigured Jesus. Anyone who follows Him must be the kind of servant Isaiah describes: willing to deny him/herself for others. The Letter of James spells out concretely what “taking up one’s cross” means. We cannot just declare our faith in Christ, we have to put faith into action or risk the faith meaning nothing. Love for Jesus is reflected in our actions and words.
“Who do you say I am?” is not a question we have to answer just once and move on. Rather it presents itself many times in life. As we pass through various stages, crises, events, sicknesses, transitions and life events our response will vary, depending upon our maturity and faith. Today we are again asked: Who is Jesus for us now and what is the meaning of Jesus for our lives? Let us take Jesus’ question with us through this week. Where are we in our lives and do we include God in what is going on now? In what ways have we allowed Jesus be the center and guide for our thinking and acting? Then, as the week progresses: what are my responsibilities as his disciple? How am I being asked each day to take up the cross and follow him?