Jesus Asked: Who Do You Say That I Am?

Birgit - good shepherd

You’re probably familiar with the following Gospel passage from Saint Matthew (especially if you were at Mass on Sunday, August 27). It establishes Jesus’ Church here on earth with Peter as the first Pope.

When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. 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.”

Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Messiah. (Matthew 16:13-20)

There’s a lot going on in this passage. Too often, we focus on Peter’s response and verses 16-20. Very rarely do we ever focus on the specific question asked by our Lord after the Apostles’ first response: “But who do you say that I am?” My emphasis here is on the pronoun you.

I’m not a Bible Scholar but I tend to think that by asking this question Jesus is not only testing the faith of His Disciples, He’s testing something else that’s very specific and also very pertinent then, as well as in today’s world. In this passage, Jesus is asking His Disciples to go against what the world is telling them, what the world thinks, and to decide for themselves.

Today’s Social Media, Yesterday’s Grapevine

Can you imagine if the technology we have today was available during the time of Jesus?

@Jesus is asking “Who do you think I am?” #WhoamI

I’m sure the answers by His Disciples would be similar to their original answers, but maybe with a slight twist:

“Well, Lord, we have many replies for #JohntheBaptist, #Elijah, and #Jeremiah.”

It’s interesting that Jesus seems to be taking note of what people are thinking. What’s important, however, is that He quickly brings His Disciples to focus on what they think, not what others are thinking.

Today – thanks in large part to social media – it’s too easy to follow the herd mentality. If everyone is thinking it, then it must be true! Everyone has an opinion. Everyone also seems to have an anonymous source that saw someone of importance do or say something of importance. And then the ‘something’ is quickly posted to social media as fact. People buy into it with participation in the hashtags and often in personal conversations outside of social media. Speculation is propagated by commenting on the statement or the event and talking about it.

But then, inevitably, the question is asked – is it true? Do you think it’s true?

Jesus, at first, seems to be gathering reports on what people – the grapevine – are saying about Him. But of course He already knows what they are saying. During Jesus’ time reports were spread through word of mouth – in the Synagogues, in homes, in the streets, amidst groups, and families. Today, the grapevine is through social media.

Jesus’ Question

Jesus’ question is easy for the Apostles to answer. It requires no personal commitment or act of faith. After all, to report what others are saying doesn’t necessarily mean you believe the reports.

However, when He follows the question up with “Who do you say that I am?” He is asking His Disciples a very difficult thing – to walk away from the gossip and the herd mentality and to decide for themselves. Jesus is putting them on the spot and asking them to bear witness to the Truth. He is asking them not only to go against society but to make the ultimate profession of Faith.

Professing Faith amidst Doubters

It’s always difficult to go against society, to be the counter culture. It’s even more difficult when you stand as a small minority, as the Disciples were. Jesus may have been asking His Disciples this question, but every time we profess our Faith at Mass or bear witness to it in our daily lives, we are answering Jesus’ question ourselves. More importantly, we, as individuals, are answering the question specifically asked of us as individuals.

Sometime after Vatican II, the profession of Faith during Mass changed from “I believe in One God”, etc. to “We believe in one God.” With the recent changes in the vernacular of the Mass over the last decade, it has returned to “I believe.” This is the direct answer to Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am?” This is an important distinction to make as it is individuals who make the commitment to the Faith, not a community. Furthermore, by asking us as individuals, Jesus is asking us to not follow a group of people but to follow Him and His mystical body the Church.

It’s easy to make a general commitment based on the reports of others – after all, it would be easier to blame misguidance on a group of people then retaining the responsibility yourself. By answering Jesus’ direct second question, we are not only affirming our individual faith, we are accepting the consequences of that affirmation and also those times when we deny it and fail to bear witness.

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

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1 thought on “Jesus Asked: Who Do You Say That I Am?”

  1. Pingback: TVESDAY CATHOLICA EDITION | Big Pulpit

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