Sunday, September 13, 2009

Who is Jesus?

Readings from the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
1. “But who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29). This question of Jesus and Simon Peter’s answer are located at the center of Saint Mark’s Gospel. That is, there is as much after it as before it. (The position of this passage is most likely not coincidental, Saint Matthew puts the same event at the center of his Gospel too.) Anyway, Jesus began by asking what other people were saying about Him. These were the crowds or others who may have simply heard about Jesus, or seen or heard Him a couple of times. The answers seem rather strange- He is Elijah, or John the Baptist, or one of the prophets.
2. The Jesus asked Simon Peter the same question “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter and the other disciples have spent a lot of time with Jesus. Their knowledge of Him was more intimate and personal. Simon Peter responded “You are the Christ.”
3. We should not underestimate the importance of this question which Jesus asks. It is not as if our answer determines who Jesus is in reality. He is Lord and Christ whether anyone believes it or not. The importance is in whether we actually know who Jesus really is. In the present age, as in the ages past, there are many opinions of who Jesus actually is. And not all these opinions are equal.
4. For example, various groups claim that they believe in Jesus. Certainly they believe that Jesus was a real person and that Mary is His mother. Furthermore they view Him as a great prophet and important person. But they do not believe that Jesus is Lord and God.
5. Other people view Jesus as a human being who became god. (John says the the Word became flesh (John 1:14) NOT the "flesh became Word." Some say that God pretended to be a human in Jesus. Some will say that Jesus was a nice guy who was just misunderstood. Others consider Him a great moral teacher or even a political radical burning with the desire for justice and intent of casting down the Romans as well as the religious leaders of His day. There are some who only know Jesus as a curse word. And others who basically see Him as a vending machine- you go to Him when you need something, but you avoid Him otherwise.
6. But these views of Jesus are either incomplete, or completely wrong. Just like our knowledge of any other person, in order to get the clearest picture of the truth we must have both intellectual knowledge and personal knowledge of Jesus.
7. Intellectual knowledge is gained through study. Human beings are intellectual creatures, and so we must study or our minds become starved. Study is a combination of humble acceptance and reception of the Tradition and critical thought, even questioning in order to arrive at a better understanding of the truth. In order to feed our intellectual needs, we must study the Bible and the teachings of the Church. When we were in the seminary, our seminary rector told us “study hard and learn the truth. If you do not know your faith or how to answer, the people will go down the street and find someone else who does.” The next year the priest professor of Scripture said "study or you will go to Hell." The need for study and intellectual development of our faith applies to all of us. We are all witnesses of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Faith. Therefore we owe it to ourselves and those whom Jesus has called us to evangelize to continue to learn. We must confront the mystery of Jesus Christ, True God and True Man and strive to gain an intellectual understanding of the Person of the Son of God who became One of us.
8. Knowledge of Jesus, however, is not merely knowing about Jesus. We must know Jesus as a Person. The only way to obtain that is through pray and the sacraments. In prayer, we can enter into a conversation with our Lord that is personal and intimate. It is true that our Lord already knows us through and through, but He is also waiting to reveal Himself more deeply to us in prayer.
9. In the sacraments, our Lord comes to us mysteriously through signs that carry real power. Even if our intellect is not the greatest, even if our prayer life is dry, we can encounter our Lord in the Sacraments and get to know Him there.
10. In the task of knowing who Jesus is, humility is key. We cannot just be satisfied with our own understanding of who He is. Peter tried to stick to His understanding of God and Jesus called him a “Satan” that is, an adversary. How can we avoid such a charge? We must accept Jesus on the Cross. We must know Him on the cross. We must be united with Him on the Cross. Then we will know the real Jesus the Christ, the Son of God.

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