In the Gospel of today, Jesus raises a critical question: Who do people say that I am? Some people believe that Jesus did not always know who he was but gradually learnt about it as a part of his human development. However, we Catholics believe that Jesus had the beatific vision right from the moment of conception, and the gift of infused knowledge about everything and everyone.
Moreover, since the sense of reason is usually attributed to a person, Jesus, being a divine person, could not have been lacking in knowledge in a way. The question was not due to an identity crisis on his part but rather an attempt to measure his disciples’ understanding of his identity. Their initial responses show the general confusion among the people. Some thought he was John the Baptist, some Elijah, while others took him to be one of the prophets.
Nevertheless, Jesus knew exactly who he was. He knew from the beginning that he was the Son of God and Redeemer of mankind. At the age of twelve, he claimed the Temple to be his Father’s house (cf. Luke 2:49). In other instances, he is emphatic that: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9); “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matt. 11:27). So, Jesus knew exactly who he was!
But who do people say he is today? Our Muslim friends hold him to be a prophet but not the Son of God because God could not be having a son like humans. They do not share our faith in the Incarnation or the Trinity. But what about us Christians? Some of us see Jesus as a businessman and have a transactional attitude to faith. This attitude easily manifests when there is, say, sickness or death in the family, and people begin to think that God has let them down. They begin to wonder why God would let a disaster come upon them given that they are regular Mass-goers, who keep the Commandments and do a lot of good works in the community. Some people take Jesus to be just a social worker or human rights activist, and such people pay attention only to his social teachings while neglecting his moral code. Some of us take Jesus to be a hit man who will help to punish or destroy our enemies.
Further in the Gospel, the Lord makes the question more personal: “Who do you say that I am?” This is meant not only to test our knowledge about his identity but also our faith in him. For an answer, we take a cue from Peter who answers correctly that Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed of God. Jesus is the Lord, and he is God. He is eternal, glorious, and perfect. He is immeasurably greater than we could ever imagine, and his love is more than human love multiplied a thousand times. He is the perfect icon of the Father and the complete expression of God’s love, power, and might. Jesus is our gateway to the kingdom of God and just before the passion he prayed for his followers: “This is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
What then does it mean to know Jesus? It means having a true and abiding relationship with him and keeping his commandments. It also means dining with him in the Eucharist, spending time with him in prayer, eucharistic adoration, and reading the Bible. Knowing Jesus intimately is sure support against sin and temptation.
In our Gospel today, Jesus further tested his disciples’ knowledge of his identity by warning them about his impending suffering and death, and this did not go down well with Peter who began to rebuke him. In discouraging Jesus from his journey to the Cross, Peter became an obstacle, and that was why the Lord told him to: “Get behind me, Satan.” Peter is scolded for rejecting Jesus’ redemptive suffering. Scandalized and perhaps frightened, he rejected the prospect of Jesus undergoing the passion, and in that sense, Jesus called him “Satan”, because Satan is the chief obstacle to the fulfilment of God’s will on earth. Accordingly, to the extent that we do not embrace the journey to the Cross, to that extent we become “Satan”.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus invites us today to check how well we know him and how well we are keeping our relationship with him. A failure to keep one’s part of the relationship makes one an obstacle in his own spiritual journey. This is what happens when someone adopts a Christianity without the cross, or Easter without Good Friday. A person becomes an obstacle who negates the commandments of God or the teachings of the Church. One becomes an obstacle to the cross when his or her spirituality is lacking in sacrifice or when they embrace moral relativism – denying the reality of objective moral principles. These are the sort of tendencies that Jesus wants us to put behind because man’s ways are different from God’s. We need to follow his lead and not ours.
As he declares in today’s Gospel:”If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me” (v.34).The idea of taking up one’s cross comes from the Roman tradition of forcing condemned criminals to carry on their shoulders a crossbar to their place of crucifixion. Jesus is categorical that we must be so committed to him as not to mind persecution, hardship, or even death. That is what it means to know who he really is.
Knowing Jesus intimately involves the pain of self-sacrifice. It is not easy to be faithful to one’s conscience, the teachings of the Church, or the Ten Commandments. It all requires self-disciple and, sometimes, humiliation and persecution. Jesus is clear that no disciple “is greater than his master” (John 13:16). Knowing Jesus involves sharing in the cross, and when the cross is borne together with Christ, it makes much meaning and always leads to victory. Jesus promises that whoever endures to the end will be saved (Cf. Matt.24:13).
Therefore, amid all the afflictions of life, let us be consoled by the words of St. Paul that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom.8:18).
As Jesus comes to us in the Eucharist today, let us thank him for giving meaning to our sufferings, and let us pray for the grace to stay faithful to him. Amen!