Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 19, 2016
Fr. José Maria Alvim Cortex, F.S.C.B.

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“Who do you say that I am?” (Lk 9:20).

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus asks the Apostles who they think he is. Today, he is asking each one of us the same question. I spent all week thinking about this question. I invite all of you to do the same. It was hard to arrive at an answer that is not theoretical. Try to think how you would answer Jesus’ question. Based on your experience, not predetermined ideas, try to answer Jesus according to the facts of your own life.

Jesus first asked the disciples what people thought about him. It was easy to answer this question. They said that some identified him as the Prophet Elijah and others thought he was John the Baptist. Some identified him with the old prophet and others with the new prophet. The crowds looked at Jesus in an ideological way. In the language of our days, we could say that some people thought Jesus was a conservative and others that he was a liberal. There is a risk of reducing our experience of faith to ideological or political categories. Sometimes we apply worldly concepts to the Church. We are neither from the right nor from the left. We belong to Jesus Christ. One time, someone asked me: “Father are you a conservative or liberal?” I answered: “Neither one nor the other.” Saint Paul says in the second reading: “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” (Gal 3:28). What identifies me as a Christian is my belonging to Christ. This goes beyond all partial categorizations.

Jesus does not want to know what people think about him in general. He is not like the politicians, always eager to know what the polls say. Christ really wants to know what each of us thinks about him. He is interested in each individual’s answer to the question: “Who do you say that I am?”

The silence of the Apostles shows us how hard it is to answer this question. When Jesus first asked the question, they responded promptly. It is easy to talk about something that is not based on our own experience but on ideology. It is much harder to answer in terms of our own personal experience, instead of the opinions of others. It is easy to repeat ideas but harder to express personal judgments, to think.

There is silence among the Apostles. However, Peter starts thinking about his own experience. He looked at the facts of his own life. He recalled the moment when he encountered Jesus, how he felt when Jesus looked at him.  He remembered the miraculous fishing expedition, the multiplication of the loaves, Jesus walking on the waters, the people Jesus had raised from the dead, the crippled and the blind who had been cured etc. He thought about how his life had been changed by Jesus. In Jesus, Peter had found the total solution to the thirst of his heart. Peter realized that he had been waiting for Jesus all his life. Peter clearly saw that Jesus was the answer not only to his own life but He was the One expected by his people, expected by the nations! He is the Messiah! Peter rises and answers: “You are the Christ of God.”

And you, who are here today, how will you respond to Jesus’ question: “Who do you say that I am?”

I spent all week trying to find my personal answer to this question. I found help in what Jesus says about the need to follow him by taking up our cross: “[…] whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Lk 9:24).

The first reading teaches us how to answer this question: “They shall look on him whom they have pierced” (Zac 12:10). We find the answer to the question by looking at the crucifix. More than that, we find the answer by following the Crucified.

I can precisely identify who Christ is in my life if I think about what I lost in order to follow him. For example, in order to become a priest, I chose not to have a wife, children, “my own family,” a career or money. I had to be available to leave my country etc. The amazing thing is that Christ really saves everything that I give up. I really have much more now than if I had not renounced these things. I do not lack anything. The experience of receiving more than what we lose for Christ shows us that Christ is alive, that He is God among us. I can answer Jesus’ question based on the beauty and positivity of this experience. Only the “Christ of God” is able to change our lives totally by responding to our desire for happiness.

“Who do you say that I am?” May the example and intercession of Saint Peter help us answer Jesus’ question. Let us be inspired by the Holy Spirit in the same way that Peter was.  Amen. 

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