Gospel Commentary: Who Do You Say I Am?

The simplest but most important question in the world is the one our Lord puts to the Apostles: "Who do you say that I am?" (Lk 9:20) Clearly there was a great deal of confusion about Him. The crowds thought He was "John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, 'One of the ancient prophets has arisen.'" (Lk 9:19) At that time, with their heightened anticipation of the promised Messiah, the Jews risked imposing false expectations on the true Messiah. Many looked for a political and military leader who would bring worldly glory to Israel. Others would have looked upon the Messiah as a celebrity, a sensationalist wonderworker known only for His miracles. To avoid being confused with these and other misconceptions about the Messiah our Lord keeps His identity secret. When St. Peter confesses Him as "the Christ of God" our Lord rebukes him and the other Apostles, commanding them "not to tell this to anyone." (Lk 9:20-21) Unfortunately, we cannot confine confusion about the Messiah to our Lord?s day. Plenty of us make the same mistake today. Rather than adhering to the truth about Jesus, we fit Him into our own personal definitions of the Messiah ? what we think the Messiah ought to be. As a result, Jesus becomes (depending on who your are) a social activist, a religious reformer, a political revolutionary, an economic reformer, a wonderworker, a prophet, a philosopher, etc. Some see Him as only merciful, some as only just. Some only know His gentleness, some only His severity. We find a million ways to create the Lord in our own image and likeness. "Who do you say that I am?" This question does not ask us to formulate our own opinion about the Messiah. Rather it asks us to leave behind our preconceived notions and learn the truth about Jesus. If we do not adhere to this truth, we do not really believe. Without this truth, there is no morality, no prayer, no sacrifice. We cannot conform ourselves to an idea, but only to the true Messiah. We cannot pray to an opinion, but only to a person. We cannot give our lives for a hypothesis, but only for a certainty. "Who do you say that I am?" The correct answer to this question comes not from the crowds but from St. Peter, the first pope. We live in a culture that wants to put every aspect of the faith to a vote. We hear that the Church must change her teachings (on contraception, divorce, homosexuality, etc.) because the majority of Catholics disagree. Yet the truth about Jesus ? and therefore every truth of the faith ? comes to us not by vote but by way of the Church He Himself established. We ought not look to surveys or polls for the truth about Jesus. Our Lord tried that already when He asked, "Who do the crowds say that I am?" (Lk 9:18) The results of His survey were about as accurate as today?s public opinion polls. Pontius Pilate conducted a similar survey when he asked the crowd, "Which one do you want me to release to you, Barabbas, or Jesus called Messiah?" (Mt 27:17) We all know how that turned out. The truth about Jesus of Nazareth did not come from the crowds. It came from St. Peter, speaking for the Apostles and indeed for the entire Church. So also today: the truth about our Lord, and every truth of the faith, comes from His Church. To know Jesus, to possess the true faith, means to listen in obedience to the successors of St. Peter and the Apostles. Only then can we give the right answer to that most important question: "Who do you say that I am?" Fr. Scalia is parochial vicar of St. Patrick Parish in Fredericksburg.

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