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9/12/2012 8:57:00 AM
Who Do You Say He Is?

Mary Jo Tully
Chancellor, Archdiocese of Portland

Sept. 16, 2012
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 50:5-9a
James 2:14-18
Mark 8:27-35

Although I haven’t counted the questions Jesus asked in the Scriptures, someone else has. I have been told that the Scripture records 180. In truth, I don’t care about the number. Some questions are more important than others. The one that echoes through the ages and our lives and still demands an answer today is “Who do you say I am?” Jesus is a good teacher and he asks the less threatening question first: “Who do people say that I am?” No matter what answer is given; it isn’t wrong because it isn’t about the person answering. Yes, for his followers Jesus’ identity is linked to their history. And so it is for us.

Like Jesus’ followers, we answer in a variety of ways and when the more important question is asked: “But who do you say I am,” our answer is an amalgam of all we have been told and seen. Early on, we repeat what we have been told by our parents, our teachers, and our priests. “Jesus is my brother…  Jesus is my friend…Jesus is the Son of God, Savior of the world, Redeemer.” Eventually, though, Jesus asks us to speak from the depth of our heart and our relationship to him. Even then, our answer will vary during different times in our life. Few will be able to sum it up in the way that Peter did and even if we did the answer would not have the same meaning for each of us.

Despite Peter’s affirmation, the hard sayings follow and one suspects that Peter is having second thoughts. Put into the context of   “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me,” many become unsure of just who Jesus is to them. The message could not be clearer. If you follow Jesus, you follow the way of the cross. This is the section of Mark’s Gospel that introduces a new and significant theme: the suffering Messiah and the cost of discipleship. As soon as Peter acknowledges Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus begins the instruction and formation that will prepare his followers for his death and their suffering. Indeed, an acceptance of suffering is part of our faith. It is a reality that we continue to learn through life.

As if to re-focus our attention toward the core of our beliefs, the second reading reminds us that our concerns should not be about our own comfort but the needs of our brothers and sisters. Our faith and willingness to suffer should be directed toward the works that are evidence of our belief. The message is not an easy one but we know that when we listen to the Lord, he will be our help. We stand with the Lord in our concern for others.    

As we gather at the altar, we express our commitment to pour ourselves out for others as Christ has been poured out for us. This is a realization that comes to us slowly. It is one of which we are, perhaps, newly aware. We give thanks to the Father through Jesus for the gifts we have been given and for the privilege of using them for the coming of the kingdom.

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