In today’s Gospel, before Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” he first asks who others say he is. They reply, “Well, um John the Baptist.” Or, “I heard someone say you were Elijah.” Still another says, “One of the prophets. That’s it! You’re one of the prophets!” They identify Jesus with some of the greatest men in their history.
So, who do you say that he is? What is you image of God? Is it of a kindly old man in the clouds? Or possibly of Jesus Christ crucified? Perhaps it is the image of the gentle good shepherd? Maybe it’s a dove or fire?
We’re logical creatures. We have a desire to make sense of our surroundings. We attempt to discover the unknown, to define the mysterious. We use science and our powers of observation to determine what is real in our lives. In short, when thinking about the Creator, we often try to make God in our own image.
When Jesus asks the apostles who they think he is, Peter boldly proclaims, “you are the Christ.’ Christ, the Messiah, the man who came to save the people. Peter is inspired by faith to make this confession. However, his faith is not yet perfected. Jesus describes how he must be killed by the religious and government leaders, and rise after three days. Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him. Peter doesn’t just utter something like, “God forbid.” He scolds Jesus because he, Peter, is not ready to accept Christ’s true mission.
Jesus, in turn, rebukes Peter for thinking in human terms – for creating Christ in his own image. The admonition “Get behind me Satan” shows just how far off the mark Peter is. Yet, in time, Peter will discover the full truth of Jesus’ mission and perfect his faith, hanging upside down on a cross on Vatican hill.
Wisdom from James
In today’s second reading, James has a little advice concerning faith. We’re in the middle of five Sundays where the second readings are taken from James. My wife even asked me why we’re reading James right now and not from one of Paul’s letters. So who is this James and why should we listen to him? James, in Scripture, is identified as a close relative of Jesus. The ‘brother of the Lord,” in other words, his cousin. He may have been the apostle James the Less although scholars tend to doubt this today. He was, however, the leader of the Christian community in Jerusalem – their first bishop. James presided over the first Council of Jerusalem. Historians note he was stoned to death in 62 AD. Though only five chapters in length, James is full of wisdom.
James tells us that “faith, of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Our faith must not be abstract but implemented in action, in every aspect of our lives. Remember that Christ said, “Not everyone who cries Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Isaiah warns us about this in Chapter 29; “This people draws near with words only and honors me with their lips alone, though their hearts are far from me. And their reverence for me has become routine observance of the precepts of men.”
Gifts from Heaven
Now, we know that we cannot earn our way into heaven by good works. It is through Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross that salvation is offered freely to us all. So let’s get away from the word “works” which tends to cause a level of anxiety with some of our separated brethren. Instead, let’s look at something more meaningful – gifts.
When talking about God’s gifts, I’m not referring to a nice home, or a car. I’m not talking about your Xbox, iPhone, iPad, iPod, I….don’t know what else. I’m also not talking about the blessings in your life, although many blessings like your wife and children are certainly important on your journey of faith. No, I’m talking about the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
In Baptism, we are claimed for Christ and infused with grace from the Holy Spirit. In Confirmation, we fully receive the gifts of wisdom, understanding, knowledge, right judgment, reverence, courage and wonder and awe in God’s presence. Each of us uniquely receives these gifts but, not everyone receives the same gift or to the same extent as others. And, like any gift, through our free will, we can choose to accept these gifts or to turn them down. In faith, as we exercise these gifts, our works show us to be a follower of Christ.
St. Paul speaks of the fruit of the spirit and, I believe, these are the works to which James was referring. See if these make sense to you: Charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self control and chastity.
Who Do You Say You Are?
So now, it’s our turn. We look to Jesus and ask, “Who do you say that I am?” Who is Jesus calling us to be (Tweet this)? To which vocation are you calling me? A vocation of marriage, or becoming a priest? Perhaps a vocation to the religious life, or as a single person? How can we use the gifts we have been given in fulfilling God’s plan for us? By which of the fruits will we call others into a deeper relationship with God?
But remember, there is a danger in following Christ. Though we exercise our gifts and exhibit the fruits of the spirit, Jesus also reminds us that anyone who wishes to be a Christian must “deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” As Christians, we, at times, are targets for prejudice, government oppression and violence. The danger to us is not only in far away lands but also here, in the “land of the free.”
If today had not been a Sunday, we would be celebrating the memorial of St. John Chrysostom, the wise, Eastern bishop from the late fourth century and a Doctor of the Church. I’ll leave you with a quote from the good man:
The waters have risen and severe storms are upon us, but we do not fear drowning for we stand firmly on a rock. Let the sea rage, it cannot break the rock. I have only contempt for the world’s threats, I find its blessings laughable. I have no fear of poverty, no desire for wealth. I am not afraid of death nor do I long to live, except for your good. If Christ is with me, whom should I fear?
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