What is the meaning of today’s readings from scripture? On the one hand, there appears to be a clear confession of faith in the Gospel when Peter, speaking on behalf of Jesus’s followers, proclaims that Jesus of Nazareth is “The Christ of God” in response to the question, “Who do you say that I am?”
Yet, this is not simply a one-way street. The confession that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the anointed one of God, cannot happen without at the same time our confessing something about who we say that we are. Most simply put, proclaiming that Jesus is the Christ carries with it certain aspects of what it means to be a Christian and what it means to be a human person.
What we have in today’s readings is a pattern or something of a guide for understanding who Christ is, while at the same time understanding who we are.
First, we cannot overlook that the whole exchange between Jesus and his disciples begins with prayer. Luke’s Gospel always has Jesus praying before some major event, revelation, or disclosure. Think of the desert before the proclamation of the reading from Isaiah, think of the garden before the Passion, think of the praying he does before the disciples ask him how they should pray, and so on. To be able to ask the question: “Who do you say that I am?” which is the desire to be known by our true identities, just as Jesus sought to be known by his followers, begins with a spirit of prayer.
We are under so much pressure today to conform our lives to the images that arise from others, focusing on “who do others say that I am,” rather than looking deep within to ask: Who does God say that I am? The starting place for that search for the true self begins with prayer.
Second, we cannot overlook the absolute necessity of relationship in this confession of faith. Peter and the other disciples were able to proclaim Jesus the Christ because they knew him, not just knew about him. We, too, are called to know Christ, to live a life of prayer that draws us every more closely to the one who already knows who we are and calls us to know God in return. So often we think we “know Jesus” — the question is often posed in evangelization moments, “Do you know Jesus?” — yet, this is often phrased in such a way as to really suggest knowledge about Jesus rather than a deep relationship with God that exceeds knowledge about the bible, facts about the church, and so on.
Third, in proclaiming Jesus as the Christ, we are also proclaiming something about ourselves. We who bear the name Christ — Christians — have our identity with Him. This is what Jesus says to us at the end of the Gospel today.
Then he said to all,
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
To proclaim Jesus as the Christ means that we call to mind the self-offering love of Christ, that toward which we strive to live, that after which we have been shaped and changed in baptism.
That we are members of the Body of Christ by virtue of our baptism means that our identity is not simply “Who others say that we are” but, as St. Paul says in the Letter to the Galatians, we are children of God, brothers and sisters to one another, and heirs to the Reign that is truly the peaceable kingdom. Paul explains:
Brothers and sisters:
Through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus.
For all of you who were baptized into Christ
have clothed yourselves with Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Greek,
there is neither slave nor free person,
there is not male and female;
for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
And if you belong to Christ,
then you are Abraham’s descendant,
heirs according to the promise.
It isn’t always easy to live up to our identity as children of God, brothers and sisters of Christ and one another. It is difficult and challenging and tiring at times. But to proclaim that Jesus is the Christ calls us to flip the coin and look on the other side to see the perennial question: “Who do you say that you are?”