Today the Church begins her one year long celebration of the Birth of St. Paul. St. Paul was born 2000 years ago in Tarsus, a small town in southern Turkey. His parents were Jewish and he was raised as a Pharisee. St. Paul was converted to Christianity in about 35 AD, when he was on the way to Damascus to persecute the Church. Pope Benedict declared that for the next year the Church will be celebrating the Holy Year of St. Paul – The man who wrote the bulk of the New Testament and helped to bring Faith in Jesus Christ to the Gentile world.
The principle question of the Gospel today is the question that Jesus puts to his disciples, and it is a question that he puts to us. Jesus asks us the question – “Who do you Say that I Am”? This is the most important question that we need to answer today because our whole relationship with God – the creator of the universe is framed by this question.
Jesus has been with his disciples for over a year. They have lived with him, witnessed the authority of his teaching. These men have seen him cure the sick, cleanse lepers, give sight to the blind, make the lame walk. Jesus asks them the question – “Who do you say that I am”.
First Jesus calls us to follow him
I think that it is important that we pay attention to the plan which Jesus used to reveal himself to the Apostles. In the beginning of Matthews Gospel. Jesus begins his ministry by calling the Apostles Peter and Andrew, James and his brother John. He says to them – “Come and follow me, and I will make you fishers of Men”. Then he sets about curing the sick, the insane and all who were afflicted by the devil. After being with Jesus for over a year, journeying with him, and being sent by Him to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God Jesus confronts them with this question – “Who do you say that I am?”
In our relationship with Jesus we witness who he is
Jesus did not show up on a street corner heal some sick guys and then ask this most important of questions, rather he invited the Apostles to follow him, live with him, enter into relationship with him. He led them to discover the answer within themselves, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit to come to know Christ as The Messiah, the anointed one of God. Jesus let his actions and deeds witness to the truth of who he was.
Those with a distant relationship with Jesus (The Jews). Who did they say that He was?
What did the Jews at the time of Christ think? - Some say John the Baptist, or Elijah or one of the other Prophets – a Holy Man to be sure, but nothing profound.
Do we have a distant relationship with Jesus? How do we answer his question?
There are still people today who answer Christ’s question in this way. If we are one of those who answer this question that way, then Jesus is not divine, and if we think about him seriously enough, then we will end up dismissing not only Him but our entire faith. If Jesus is just a prophet, then what do we think of his claim to be the Son of God? Later in the Gospel after Peter’s Confession he is revealed as God’s Son by the Father, and in John’s Gospel he makes that explicit claim. If we think that Christ is one of the Prophets, a holy man, but not divine, then he really ends up being a kind of religious nut – because we don’t take his claim to divinity seriously. He was a nice guy except for that whole son of God thing… He was a nice guy except for that whole drink my blood and eat my flesh thing…
What are the bonds / limits on our relationship?
There is another way that we respond to the question – “Who do you say that I am”? We place bounds on our relationship with Christ. What kind of bounds? The bounds of our sin. In this way we are like both Peter and Paul in the other readings today. In the first reading we see that Peter is bound in chains and thrown in prison. For him, the chains and prison were those of persecution, something the Church has suffered from the time of her founding. What chains bind us from fully proclaiming the Gospel, from witnessing fully to the reality of Who Christ is? In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles Peter is freed from those chains by an angel and led back to the house of Mark the Evangelist, (And Peter’s future secretary).
Who do you say that I am?
What are the things that limit how we can answer this question of Christ? What are the chains that are restraining our relationship with Christ?
• Am I afraid of this kind of relationship with him?
• Am I angry with Christ over my current lot in life?
• What am I afraid of learning if I let my relationship grow to this level?
• Do I fear what others will say of me if I have this kind of relationship with Jesus?
How often do we allow the world to distort our confession of Faith in Jesus Christ because we are unwilling to suffer persecution for the sake of the Gospel? How often is our confession of Faith chained by human expectation, or limitation! Today we can call upon Christ for the courage to witness to the Gospel, to be freed from the chains that hold us down from confessing true faith.
Who do you say that I am? – St. Paul at the end of his life
St. Paul answers this question for us as well in his letter to Timothy. This letter was perhaps the last letter that St. Paul wrote. In our readings today he begins by stating that his “life is being poured out as a libation” – This means that his life is being poured out as a sacrifice of love to the Gospel, to the teaching and truth of who Jesus Christ is. Like Peter in the first reading at the time when Paul is writing this letter he is in prison, awaiting his beheading by the Emperor Nero outside the walls of the city of Rome. Paul testifies with his life to the love and truth of Jesus Christ.
It is not too late to begin to run!
At the end of his life, just days before his execution St. Paul testifies that he has run the good race – his reflection on his life is that he did bear witness to the truth of Jesus. He is ready to go and be with God. He encourages us by reminding us that it is not too late to start running. It is not too late to be freed from prison. Let us today open our hearts to the Holy Spirit, so that He can use us to proclaim this week that Jesus is truly the Messiah, the Anointed one of God, the Son of the Most High. We do this when we live lives like St. Paul, when we allow ourselves to be poured out like a libation – a sacrificial offering to the Love of Christ in all that we say and do. In doing this, we confess with not just our lips, but with the actions of our heart and soul and mind that Jesus Christ is Lord!