But Who Do You Say that I Am?

“But who do you say that I am?”

This is the most profound question we can ask about Jesus: who do we say that he is?

Some say a great salesman, others say a revolutionary; some say a great philosopher with great wisdom. But who do you say Jesus is? Do you say with Simon Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”? That would include great salesman, revolutionary, and wise man, and go beyond these categories.

Jesus is the source of all good, the source of all meaning. We can never fully comprehend Jesus. Rather than comprehend Jesus we need to live Him, and, as we live Him, learn through our relationship who he is. We don’t have a relationship with a great salesman, or a great revolutionary, or even a great prophet. No, we have a relationship with God Himself; a God who reaches down and talks to us in a manner we can understand, because this God is also human.

I don’t understand this God made man, I just revel in His glory. Peter had an even greater difficulty in understanding Jesus. He was hoping for a Vin Diesel hero that would kick the Romans out and establish Israel as the dominant power in the known world of that time. He didn’t realize that Jesus was the Christ for the whole world. Though Peter didn’t get it completely, he did get it better than anyone else. So Jesus said, “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

In the Greek in which the New Testament was written, petros is the word for “rock.” Now, at this point in his development, Peter was not the rock he later came to be. Soon after this great statement, he was to desert Jesus, and deny Him three times. But he became such a rock that he was crucified for the name of Jesus. Tradition says that he felt unworthy to be crucified in the same way Jesus had been, and requested to be crucified upside down. He turned from a coward to a hero; from not understanding to a deep relationship with Jesus.

Even more important for us living in 2014, Peter, a man who lived 2000 years ago, began a shepherd ministry of caring that has lasted until now. Try to find other things that have lasted 2000 years. The Roman Empire is long gone. The great gods of Mount Olympus are also gone. But a religion started by a carpenter and some fishermen is still going strong 2000 years later.

Another important word is “Church.” We tend to think of “Church” as a building, but the Greek word used in the New Testament was ecclesia. Ecclesia, for the Greeks, meant an assembly of people, particularly gathered for a political purpose in Athens. In the New Testament it can be translated as congregation or a group of worshippers. These definitions don’t satisfy me. I think ecclesia means people who take seriously Jesus’ question: “Who do people say that I am?” They seek Jesus by full active conscious participation in the Mass. When not in Mass they try to keep Jesus the center of their lives at all times. As humans, those who take Jesus seriously fall into sin, but they don’t stay there. They continually seek Jesus.

The question is still relevant today: “Who do you say that I am?” Do we try to bend Jesus to our ways, or do we let Jesus lead us? All too often we try to bend Jesus to our ways. We are also challenged by the image of Peter as a rock. The ideals of Christianity endured for 2000 years. They have a common thread of love of God, love of others, and love of self for that 2000 years. What a wonderful constant message! We are also challenged by the image of Church. Do we take Jesus seriously? Or do we just give a grudging hour once a week? Do we as much as possible fully, actively, and consciously participate in the Mass? Do we take that participation into our daily lives and glorify God with our prayers, thoughts. Words, and deeds? Every day we should ask, “Who do I say that you are?” And we should live that answer every day of our lives.

Father Mike Van Cleve

Father Mike is a priest for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner. 

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