The gospel selection today is one that proves the adage, “The Gospel is ever new.” The “newness” is not that the words we read or hear were never there before (and thus new. Rather, the “newness” is that I have changed and the gospel passage is being heard, in a sense, by a new me.
Jesus first asks his disciples a factual question, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” The people who have been listening to Jesus consider him a prophetic presence like John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the ancient prophets. They see Jesus as a man of God and thus special like the prophets were.
Then Jesus asks the disciples a much more difficult question, “who do YOU say that I am?” Peter articulates the truth about Jesus:“the Christ of God.” In Matthew’s version of this story Jesus is amazed at Peter’s answer and acknowledges that Peter’s insight into Jesus (that he is the Christ, the Messiah) does not come from his own thinking. Jesus recognizes that Peter’s insight comes from God.
Jesus’ questions comes to us as well as to the disciples. We can say fairly clearly what the scholars, for example, say about Jesus – who he is, what he did, when he lived, what were his accomplishments, joys, sorrows – but the real question is who I, like Peter, say that Jesus is.
The answer to that question is found in the ongoing and deepening way that I understand and express who Jesus is for me as I am right now. The question and the answer are both part of the ongoing relationship that I have with Jesus. And since it is part of that most important relationship in my life, it is constantly revealing more and more of the wonders of who Jesus is for me.
This is why the encounter with Jesus is always new. The encounter with him reveals to me who I am in relationship to him. I need to hear and answer that question (Who do YOU say that I am?) not just once or twice, but constantly.
The “Who do YOU say that I am” question challenges us again and again.
Let us be as bold as Peter in answering Jesus’ identity question. Let us open ourselves to God’s own teaching our hearts who Jesus is for us. Then we can be impelled to live our lives out of the truth of the answer. It the most important question we are called on to answer because it defines our ongoing relationship with Christ.
By John Shanahan