Of all the interactions that Jesus has with his disciples – from hearing him preach to all the amazing miracles he performs, healing the sick, walking on water, raising the dead – from all his interactions, I always find this Sunday's Gospel to be particularly moving, and relevant to my own spiritual life and my own relationship with God.
Matthew writes that Jesus and his disciples went to the region of Caesarea Philippi, a
a city that was twenty miles north of the Sea of Galilee. It was still considered to be part of the Jewish territory, but was highly influenced by pagan practices, and was known for a great temple that was dedicated to Caesar Augustus, who was revered as a god-like figure in the Roman empire. It’s here that Jesus poses these significant questions to his disciples. “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Jesus is asking them what people have been saying about him? What rumors are going around about me? And so, the disciples tell him, "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." While those aren’t offensive answers, we also know that not everyone had a favorable opinion about Jesus. Some of the Pharisees said he was possessed by the devil. In other words, Jesus is an evil person. Even his own family said that he’s out of his mind, he’s crazy. But then, Jesus asks his disciples a very personal question, “But who do you say that I am?”
When you’re asked to describe someone to another person, how you describe that person depends on how you relate to that person. How you describe your boss or a co-worker will be different than how you describe your spouse or a sibling. You’ll describe someone that you love differently than someone you know professionally or by acquaintance. It comes from the heart, how you’re moved by that person and your memories of that person.
If Jesus were to ask you these two questions, how would you answer them? “Who do people say that I am?” I would imagine that most Christians would give the right answer. Jesus is God who became man. He died on the cross and rose from the dead. Jesus is the Savior of the world. But while they are correct answers are they actually personal answers that come from the heart or simply theoretical? It’s easy to believe things about Jesus rather than believing in Jesus.
So if Jesus were to ask you then the second question, “But who do you say that I am?” What would you say? Is he your God, the one who has saved you from your sins, who gives and sustains your life, the source of your joy and peace in life? And if you were to answer in that way, are your answers just the responses that you're told that you're supposed to say, theoretical, or does it come from a deep and personal relationship with God that flows from your heart? This is why I find this Gospel passage so moving and relevant to my own spiritual life.
To put it in a different perspective, if someone were to ask you a similar question, why do you go to Church, why are you a Catholic? Would your answer convince that person that you’re truly in love with Jesus Christ? That’s the only reason why we go to Church and why we persevere in our Catholic faith, because we love and believe in God and in everything that he has given us to help us in our faith.
If we desire to grow in our love for Jesus Christ, and to stay in love with him, we have to have those moments of being with him. We want to spend time with him. Being with him in our prayer, where we speak to him from our heart. Hearing him speak to us in the Scriptures, where we read and reflect over his life. It’s that excitement of wanting to learn more about him, and we can do that from what the Church teaches about Jesus. And of course, we encounter him here at the Eucharist, where we receive his very own body and blood.
All these can help us to answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” Answers that truly come from the heart, because we love and believe in God. Like Peter, we can sincerely and wholeheartedly say, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Father Adam Park grew up in the Washington, DC area. He discovered his vocation to the priesthood while on retreat during his senior year in high school. Being ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Washington, he has served in different assignments throughout the archdiocese.