We can almost feel the tension in the Gospels sometimes when Our Lord asks questions, testing and stretching the faith of His disciples and other listeners. Others had already called Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, and Our Lord hushed them and told them not to tell this to anyone. But at this point in His ministry, gathered with those Twelve closest to Him, Our Lord is ready to spell it out clearly, revealing the real meaning of Messiah.
“You are the Christ,” Saint Peter declares. ‘Christ’ is the Greek word for ‘Messiah’, which is a Hebrew word. It means ‘anointed one’. Jewish priests were anointed, as were prophets and kings. And that was part of the problem. Most people in Our Lord’s time had their own ideas of who the Messiah, the Christ, would be when he came. Most thought he would be an anointed warrior king who would rally the people and kick out the Romans and their quislings and set things straight. And all of them misunderstood Jesus completely.
Saint Peter was the first to fully understand. And Our Lord still told Peter and the other disciples not to tell anyone, because the people wouldn’t understand. To be anointed is a sign of being chosen, of being singled out and exalted. And we have become so used to calling Jesus the Christ that we do it automatically, without thinking about it. But Our Lord wanted to challenge His disciples, and He wants to challenge us to see who He really is.
Immediately after Our Lord told the disciples that He was the Messiah, He began to teach them what that really means. Jesus said that as Messiah, He would undergo the things Isaiah had prophesied and which we heard in the first reading: “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.” Our Lord told His disciples that He, “the Son of Man must suffer greatly, be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.”
So, the question Our Lord asks of us today is, “Who do YOU say I am?” Like Saint Peter, we know the answer, but we may not like, or fully understand, the consequences. Yet, as Saint James teaches in the second reading, our faith must lead to action. Our Lord wants much more from His disciples, he doesn’t want us to simply hear that He is the Messiah, the Son of Man and Son of God who suffers and dies to redeem the world. He wants us to truly know WHO He is, and we have to follow Him. And the only way to realize who Jesus is, is by following Him, and that involves denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and following Him faithfully each day.
We’ve heard in the readings at daily Mass this past week that the person who is timid and afraid and wants to save his life, will in fact lose it, because they look at things in a merely human, common sense way, not as God looks at things. But how can we know how God looks at things? Well, by laying down our life with Christ and for His sake, as He laid down His life for our sake. Only then will we see things as He does, only then will we save our lives and rise with Him, only then will we really know who He is – and who we are.