“Who do you say I am?”
Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
“Who do you say I am?”
This question of the Lord to his disciples was given at a critical moment in his ministry. The disciples had been with Jesus now for perhaps two years. They had witnessed his miracles. They had listened to his teaching. They had accompanied him on his journeys. They had been receiving private tuition. They had been sent out to preach and heal.
Jesus knew that his time was finite. He had to prepare for the future. And the future was the Church. These disciples were to be the foundation of the Church. They had to take up his mission. Were they ready?
So he poses this question. You must not just be followers, but convinced believers who will proclaim to the world what you believe and know. It is not just enough to be passive observers; not enough just to be consumers; you have to be willing to stand up for what you believe.
So …. Who do you say I am?
This is also a critical question for each of us as Catholics. And the same rules apply. It is not enough just to be a consumer, a follower, a recipient – you have to be a convinced believer so that you become an active advocate of Jesus to the world.
I often quote Pope Benedict on this. He describes Christianity as being above all an encounter with Christ. This encounter when real changes everything. He says that Christianity “is not a new philosophy or a new form of morality. We are only Christians if we encounter Christ.” In other words, Christ must be absolutely real for us and the focus and purpose to our life. He is to be at the centre. We have come to a place when He is for us the Way, the Truth and the Life – the only way, the only truth, the only life.
Pope Benedict understands that this encounter does not have to be some kind of dramatic experience (like St Paul on the road to Damascus), but something none-the-less real and life changing. Thus he says,
We can also encounter Christ in reading Holy Scripture, in prayer, and in the liturgical life of the Church – touch Christ’s heart and feel that Christ touches ours. And it is only in this personal relationship with Christ, in this meeting with the Risen One, that we are truly Christian.
Two Gospel stories highlight the effect of an encounter with Christ. Both reveal how an encounter with Christ dramatically changes a person’s life.
- The woman at the well told by St John. In this instance the conversation which began on the physical level moves to the spiritual level. The result is that her whole world is radically affected and changed.
- The account of the encounter with Zacchaeus shows how the Lord’s personal interest in him leads to his conversion. He has a whole new approach to material possessions.
This encounter is different for different people. For some it may have been something quite profound – a moment of genuine conversion. For many it would have been something quiet and gradual. In one way or another we know that we have met Christ, and we are different as a result.
The real encounter with Christ is such that it does radically change our whole perspective on life, on ourselves, on our relationships, indeed on every dimension of our existence. It is simply life changing.
This change does not rob us of our autonomy or opportunity. Thus, Pope Benedict XVI says,
If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful, and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed.
Today, at this Mass, let us hear the Lord ask us: who do you say I am? Quietly, in the depths of our hearts, let us respond to the Lord.
Archbishop Julian Porteous
Sunday, August 23, 2020