Jesus and his disciples set out
for the villages of Caesarea Philippi.
Along the way he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that I am?”
They said in reply,
“John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others one of the prophets.”
And he asked them,
“But who do you say that I am?”
Peter said to him in reply,
“You are the Christ.”
Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.
He began to teach them
that the Son of Man must suffer greatly
and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed, and rise after three days.
He spoke this openly.
Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples,
rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them,
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake
and that of the gospel will save it.”
“Who do the people say that I am?”
That is an easy question to answer. You just have to listen to what people say. People love to make their opinions known. I don’t think the world could contain all the pages of a complete treatise on who people say Jesus Christ is. He has been called every name in the world; His Name has been used to justify every possible activity, good and evil. It’s easy to talk about who people say Jesus is.
“But who do you say that I am?”
“You are the Christ.” That is also an easy answer, to an extent. Depending on the circumstances it might be more difficult, but parroting a correct answer, in itself, is something anyone can do. We all know dozens of answers we can recite without understanding and be perfectly correct. Caesar crossed the Rubicon on the tenth of January, 49 BC. The Constitution of the United States begins, “We, the People.” A squared plus B squared equals C squared, where c represents the length of the hypotenuse and a and b the lengths of the triangle’s other two sides. Jesus is the Christ. A computer can recite those facts and not be wrong. You could train a three-year-old to recite them and the three-year-old would not be wrong. You could torture a man on the rack until he screams these bits of data because you told him to scream them, and he wouldn’t be wrong. Reciting correct answers is an easy thing to do. If a chimpanzee on a typewriter accidentally typed “Jesus is the Christ,” that chimpanzee would be correct.
The Lord demands something more of us than the correct answer.
The Lord knows how dangerous a correct answer to something so serious is, when recited without understanding and without love.
So He began to teach the Apostles the meaning of that mystery– that He was the Christ. He began to teach them what it means to be Christ and to follow Christ. He did this so that when they day came, they would go forth and tell the good news to all the Earth and they would not only not be wrong in spreading a fact, but they would be Christians, little Christs.
“The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.” Simon Peter rebuked the Lord for teaching this. This is difficult. Anyone can assert that Jesus is the Christ. Anyone can teach others that Jesus is the Christ. We can all feel a good warm sensation in our stomachs when we know we’ve recited our Catechism correctly. It’s a different matter entirely to find out who Christ is. What is a Christ? What is this thing that Jesus is, that we’ve called Christ? There are no mortal words to describe everything that Christ is, because Christ is the Eternal God. But for one thing, Christ is someone who must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.
Who can accept that?