19 June 2016
Zechariah 12.10-11, 13.1
A certain elderly woman who lived overseas rarely visited her brothers and only sister who still lived in the country of their birth. On one such visit she commented to a friend that she was not very impressed by her sister’s husband as she felt he was rather impatient and moody. When her sister heard about these comments she replied: ‘obviously she doesn’t know my husband very well as she rarely visits us. I have lived with him for 30 years. I know him very, very well and he is a marvelous husband. Like all of us he has human limitations but I am really happy I married him’.
In the gospel today we have something like that. Jesus asks the disciples who do people say that he is. They replied that there were different opinions about him. Because they don’t know Jesus that well some said John the Baptist, others Elijah and others one of the ancient prophets come back to life. It is clear that there was not a general agreement about his real identity. All these saw Jesus as a holy man like the ones the people mentioned. But when Peter is asked he doesn’t quote what others say of Jesus but in answer to Jesus’ direct question: ‘who do you say I am’ Peter replies ‘the Christ of God’.
Peter sees Jesus as much more that a holy human person. The word ‘Christ’ means the Anointed One of God, the Messiah, someone who has a very special relationship with God. It is only after the resurrection that the full truth of who Jesus is was revealed to the apostles and disciples.
Of course, Jesus is asking each one of us the same question he asked of Peter. “Who do you say I am?” What is our answer? Jesus wants a personal reply from each of us. Jesus is really asking ‘Who am I for you? What is your most cherished way of naming me? Who do you want me to be for you? It is never enough to know what others are saying about Jesus. Jesus asks for a personal answer.
The wife in our story knew her husband, through and through. Why? Because she was living with and therefore very close to him. Is there really any other way to know a person than to spend much time with that person as Peter did with Jesus? Hearsay is not enough. It is very interesting that the text tells us that Jesus himself sets the pattern of getting to know him and the Father. Today’s gospel passage opens with the statement that it was just after he was praying alone in the presence of his disciples that Jesus posed the question about his identity. Jesus the human being – because he spent a good amount of time in personal prayer to the Father – knew him intimately. He is telling us that this is the best way. Do you spend personal time in prayer, not only repeating vocal prayers, rosaries or novenas which are very good prayers but spend time in quiet prayer to Jesus, to God, listening to them, talking to them about our own personal lives, joys, sorrows and needs.
So far in the gospel episode maybe what Jesus asks isn’t too disturbing but then he really makes a radical statement which the disciples or we would prefer not to hear. Following Jesus involves carrying the cross, not anyone’s cross, even the cross of Jesus, but my own cross. The gospel passage spells it out clearly. “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let them renounce themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me”.
One of the medieval mystics wrote ‘Jesus does not ask us to take up his cross!’ This simple statement – only a matter of underlining a different word from the one we usually underline – has been a source of insight and support for me for many years. My cross will not at all look like the cross of Christ! It will look more like me! We are our own crosses. To carry ourselves along, with all our fears, compulsions, laziness and sinfulness: that alone could make many of our days Good Friday! Add to it all the people we try to help, who make demands on us, or those we lend a shoulder to in order to carry their crosses’.
As we know one doesn’t have to be a Christian to be a disciple of Jesus. Millions are without knowing it. Just look at the television news any day and see the explosions, the bombs, the famines, the civil wars and all those displaced and starving – there is the cross in its stark reality. These tragic people do their best to survive in their living hell concerned about families, friends and fellow victims. If we feel like complaining about our own crosses hopefully these scenes might make us count our many blessings and see our own crosses in perspective.
The gospel passage ends today with Jesus telling us: ’whoever would save his/her life will lose it, and whoever loses it for my sake will save it’. That certainly is the greatest paradox of our lives. We gain life by losing it. Why? Because by doing so we become sharers in the life of Christ himself.
“Loving Father, your Son Jesus offered his life for our sake. Grant me the grace of offering my own life to you.”
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA