“WHO DO YOU SAY I AM?”
21st Sunday Cycle A. Matthew 16:13-20.
Pius Mclaughlin, OFM
There is a beautiful story told about a little boy who wanted to meet God. He knew it was a long trip to where God lived, so he packed his rucksack with bags of crisps and some coca-cola cans and then started out on his journey.
When he had gone about a mile, he met and old woman sitting on a bench in the park, talking to some pigeons. The boy sat next to her and opened his rucksack. He was about to take a drink from is coca-cola when he noticed the old lady looked a bit hungry, so he offered her some crisps. She gratefully accepted them and smiled. Her smile was so pretty that they boy wanted to see it again, so he offered some cola. Again she smiled at him and the boy was delighted! They sat there all afternoon eating and smiling but they never said a word.
As dusk approached, the boy realized how tired he was and got up to leave, but before he had gone more than a few steps, he turned around, ran back to the old woman and gave here a hug. She gave him the biggest smile ever.
When the boy arrived back home his mother was greatly worried and was about to scold him when she noticed the look of joy and smiles on his face. “What did you do today that made you so happy”? He replied, “I had lunch with God” And before his mother could respond, he added, “And you know what? She’s got the biggest smile I have ever seen”,
Meanwhile the old woman, also radiant with joy returned to her home where she lived with her son and his wife. Her son was amazed at the look of peace on her face and asked, “Mum, what did you do today that made you so happy. She replied slowly, “I ate crisps in the park with God”. Before her son could reply, she added. “You know, he’s much younger than I expected”
Who do you say I am? In the Gospel I’ve just read, Jesus asks his disciples a burning question. He wanted to know what they were saying about him and who it was that they thought he was…so struggling with answers, the disciples tried to share their thoughts.. So what about us?
What does Jesus look like?. We don’t know what he looked like, although we can get some idea by studying what a Jewish man in his early thirties, looked like during the time Jesus lived. We might be surprised at what we find……….
Without a doubt, the person who has been depicted in art the most down through the centuries is Jesus. We have seen pictures of Jesus in Bibles and Bible storybooks, all of them radically different in how they depict him.
Rembrandt’s Jesus is very human, gentle and kind-looking. Typical of Rembrandt…. a lot of light and shadow is associated with Jesus
El Greco’s Jesus is a striking, lean somewhat wild and demanding Jesus. He is portrayed here as the judge and ruler of the world – severe, starring as if he can see straight through
Fra Angelico portrays Jesus as sweet, soft and angelic Raphael paints Jesus with innocent boyish features
There is Jesus, the Good Shepherd – loving, smiling , caring – protecting, gentle and kind… In literature Jesus has been viewed in a wide variety of ways. In both art and literature there are so many images of Jesus and so many ideas about what kind of person Jesus was.
What Jesus’ physical appearance was like is anyone’s guess. Of all those who have painted portraits of Jesus maybe one of them has come close but we will never know (not in this lifetime anyway). So far as who Jesus is regarding his divinity, his work as saviour, his ministry, life, death and resurrection, these are well documented in scripture.
In our Gospel today, Jesus casually asks the disciples “Who do people say I am?”The reply came, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah (because it was believed Elijah would return) while others say Jeremiah (the prophet of gloom and doom) or some other prophet.”
People who had witnessed Jesus work miracles, listened carefully when he taught about the Kingdom of God…. heard him speak harshly at first to a Canaanite woman and then observed his extraordinary care and compassion….these were all trying to work out who this man from Nazareth really was and came up with all kinds of suggestions.
Jesus wasn’t interested in conducting a popularity poll about what the crowds thought of him. He wasn’t looking for information either? He was more interested in helping his close circle of friends to be quite clear about who he is. He asks the disciples straight out, “What about you? Who do you think I am?” He is asking “Who am I for YOU?” What do I mean to YOU?
The question is more like a question that a husband might ask his wife or vice versa, for example, “Are we two people who just happen to live together or do we have something in common?” Or the kind of question someone might ask a friend concerning whether or not the questioner has made a difference insofar as the other person shares the same dreams /hopes that the friend asks of his or her friend.
Let’s change Jesus’ Question, “Who do you say I am?” to “Who am I for you?” Now, if I’m right about the meaning of Jesus’ question. And if this question applies as much to us as it did to his first disciples, then it’s a pretty important question. How does each of us answer that question? Obviously, all of our answers will be different and indeed we can sometimes be blinded by our own prejudices, our own religious background or those groups or people don’t fit into our picture of Jesus. **STORY of LITTLE GIRL in ART Class…
The art teacher allowed her class to draw anything that came to mind and as she walked around the room she was amazed at some of the drawings. She came to one little girl working furiously and asked her what she was drawing….She replied “I’m drawing God” so teacher said, “Well, you can’t really do that”. “Why not?” asked the little girl. “Because no one has seen God or knows what God looks like. The little girl looked at the teacher with grim determination and said “They’ll know when I’m finished!!”
This question of Who is Jesus?…… is as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago.”When it comes down to it what is the one thing that makes Christians, Christian?” The thing that makes us who we are is who Jesus is. Jesus Christ is Christianity. Other faiths have love; have beliefs about the good and the true, Only Christianity has Jesus.” Jesus was always passionately concerned about breaking down barriers between the fit and unfit. During his ministry, he crossed boundaries by bringing together people who otherwise would have remained distant from one another. Jesus mission and passion was to include, not exclude, others.
Of course, if we really want to get an idea of who Jesus is and whether or not we are answering the question as Jesus understood himself, – we need to think about what he said and did in his life that he thought was important. His preaching and living out his Gospel way of Life was his call for all of us to live and belong to the “Kingdom of God”
Christianity is not just a collection of truths to be believed or laws to be obeyed….No, Christianity is a person…Christianity is Christ. Perhaps it should be added that Christianity is the only religion where the God of the universe will do anything to reach out to every person on this planet with love, compassion and forgiveness.
We have all come across various images of God in our own lives which can influence the ways in which we relate to ourselves, to others and to God. – maybe an old man with a beard, a disappearing God never around to prevent bad things happening, a cruel God, and absent God a God who has no time for fun and play, a God who offers conditional love. The images are endless depending where we are coming from or where we are at in our lives. If that’s the way we are, then it’s time to reflect on the question again “Who do you say I am” It might be helpful to explore some of the distorted image we have and forever cast them out of our lives as being false and untrue of the God we believe in………
I don’t believe in a God who can forgive some of my wanderings and not others. I don’t believe in a God who retaliates and gets his own back, who makes me suffer for my mistakes and failings. I don’t believe in a God who judges me, keeps records in his little black book and instills fear in people. I don’t believe in a God who gloats over my mishaps and tells me “it serves you right”. I don’t believe in a God who is solemn, conservative, boring, no fun or life within – who is found only in Churches. I don’t believe in a God who is never around when natural disasters happen, who sets up traps for me. I certainly don’t and never will believe in a God who doesn’t love me, who doesn’t believe in me and care for me – who is incapable of healing and hope in every situation. NO, THE GOD I BELIEVE IN IS THE OTHER GOD… the one who ……. Through his son Jesus, has come down to our level, walked the earth, experienced what it is really like to see and meet people caught up in sin and the havoc that it causes in our lives, and was even willing to suffer and die to make things right again between God and us. So Now….who do you say Jesus is for you?
So now, along with Peter we too confess “ You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.”….. and as Franciscans we pledge to carry on his vision of being bearers of the Good News and the Joy of the lived Gospel. To use Francis’ words “being Heralds of the great King and Troubadours of the Lord”
And so we pray from our hearts …………….
“Stay with me Jesus because I need you….Let me recognize you as Your disciples did at the Breaking of the Bread, so that my communion will be the light that disperses the darkness. Stay with me Lord, and give me the gift of awareness, of your presence within me always”. Amen.