I’m sure we all have opinions on who others think they are. How can we not? It’s the living out of our curious nature, along with our ever-dangerous judgmental nature. Judgmental, meaning the sinful and intentionally wrongful criticism of others.
It goes hand in hand with gossip, which can potentially be a grave sin. There’s a difference between saying that such and such a player from the Red Sox stinks, and saying about someone, “Did you hear what happened to Mary? I heard she fell down the stairs at her home because she was drunk, not because she accidentally fell!” Little did that person know that Mary has vertigo, and as a result of her disease, there are times when she will easily lose her balance.
We all have a few opinions on who others think they are, and on who we think others are. Some of it may be good, and some of what we say and think may be shamefully wrong. And even if it isn’t shamefully wrong, it may still be an unnecessary, put-down conversation.
But that’s not what Jesus is trying to draw out of his disciples. Which includes us, by the way. When Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” he certainly is curious about the scuttlebutt of those who have listened to his words and witnessed his actions. God hears his people. He’s asking about you, the lay persons in the Church. “Who do the crowds say that I am?” Jesus is interested in the pulse of the good people of Israel. What are they saying, and how accurate are their statements?
This is important to us today for a couple reasons. First, to what degree do Christians understand and accept the truth and spiritual difficulty of Jesus’ eternal message of love and hope? A message that finds a cross right at the center of it. Some folks prefer anger at God, which may be understandable at times when the expected and unexpected difficulties of the world are placed on our shoulders. But as long as we live and breathe in this world, the Cross is part of the journey. Just as it was for our Lord.
And secondly, what the crowd is saying about Jesus; is he represented fairly and accurately, or is he being misrepresented by some of our words, actions, and inactions? Jesus knows who he is. How well do know the Christ of God, this name that Peter uses? Unquestionably today, there is plenty of misrepresentation with the name of Jesus. Whenever his name is used as a curse, God is misrepresented harshly. Whenever a Christian turns to hatred and/or violence to settle a score, there is misrepresentation by someone in the crowd. Where there is an utter disregard for the poor – “leave me alone, I’m concerned only about me, me, and me again” – is a misrepresentation of one’s faith in the Son of God.
Conversely, where there is a proper use of the name of Jesus; where there is a search for peaceful resolution; where there exists a generosity toward our poor brothers and sisters, Jesus is represented with pinpoint accuracy.
And then Jesus moves the questions to his first priests; “But who do you say that I am?” It’s a question revealing how every priest will be held accountable regarding how accurate we speak about our Lord. Or how well we act in the person of Christ. Do we as priests say, “The Christ of God. That’s who you are!” Or do we say at times, “You are the Christ, the Son of God, let me form you and shape you in my image and likeness rather than you form me and shape in your image and likeness?”
This is why as priests we are to be obedient to the teachings of the faith. It is through such obedience that Jesus is represented with theological precision.
What we can take from this Gospel are a couple certainties regarding our personal faith in Christ. First, Jesus has a loving, genuine concern for what all of us say about him. His concern and interest is directed not only at the priest or deacon who preaches the truths of the faith each week, and how accurately we present the message of salvation. His interest is also directed at the lay faithful, and how you, my brothers and sisters, have a solemn responsibility of not only bringing Christ to others, but doing so accurately. And representing Jesus well.
And secondly, we take from our readings the certainty that we are to carry a Cross if the reflection of Christ is to be at the heart of our faith and lives. This does not mean we seek out or enjoy suffering . Christians are not crazy people. Just crazy in love with God. Rather, carrying a Cross does man dying to self in the truest way that allows us to be born again in Christ. This may include suffering, loss, confusion at times, death itself. Every Christian has a Cross to carry in imitation of our Lord. But as with Jesus, it will be our symbol of victory over a sinful world. A personal, eternal victory.