24th Sun [B] 2006

Fr. Charles Irvin

Isaiah 50:5-9; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35

Asking the right question is terribly important in many situations and in major events we all face in life.

For those of you who are in school, think of those situations in your classrooms where questions are put to your teachers. Are the questions put to them such that those asking the questions are really trying to learn something or are the questions asked to try and embarrass the teacher, or to get a laugh out of the class? And outside of classrooms, how many times do you hear questions asked in order to embarrass someone or humiliate them rather than to truly learn something?

For you adults, think of the importance of questions you put to your bosses. Asking the right question can lead to your promotion. Asking the wrong question can cost you your job.

And then there those who are in love. Lovers spend hours and hours and hours asking each other questions because they want to know everything there is to know about the ones they love. Asking certain questions can lead to deepening your love for each other. On the other hand, asking the wrong question can lead to a rupture of your relationship, even cause it to end. Friends and lovers ask each other lots and lots of questions. Why? Because to know is to love, and to love is to know.

There are other types of questions also. For instance there are questions that begin with “How?” and there are questions that begin with “Why?” “How?” questions call for answers that deal with technique – they call for technological answers. “Why?” questions deal with meaning – they call for answers beyond the proofs found by employing the scientific method of learning. “How?” questions seek proofs; “Why?” questions seek understandings and insights.

Take, for example, the question: “What is the meaning of life?” “What is the meaning of your life?” The scientific method will not lead you to answers to those questions.

Jesus Christ is God’s self-expression of Himself to us. We find Him in today’s Gospel account asking his disciples to tell Him who they think He really is. St. Mark reports:

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.”

It seems to me that Jesus had two reasons for asking His question. One was in order to have His disciples give some serious thought to just who they thought He was. The other was to take the opportunity to teach them about what was going to happen to Him – to teach them about just what kind of a Messiah He was going to be for them, and what He had to do in order to fulfill the mission His Father in heaven had given Him.

In considering today’s Gospel passage we ought to pay attention to just why it was Jesus put the question to them. We might easily conclude that He want to take the opportunity to teach them about just who He was and what it was He had to do. If we say that was the reason we would, of course, be correct. But there was another reason, a reason that I think was the most important of all, and that is to cause them to realize for themselves just who and what He was. It was what they knew in their hearts and minds to be true that was uppermost, I think, in His mind.

St. Mark reports this whole episode not just for the sake of entering it into the historical record but to confront you and me, two thousand years later, with the question that confronted them.

Just who do you think Jesus is for you now? Is he an interesting historical figure? A nice guy among a lot of other nice guys who have started religions? Is He, as the Muslims say, a great prophet? Is he one among many in a long line of Jewish rabbis?

Or is Christ Jesus God’s self-expression made human so that we can see Him, know Him, and love Him as one of us? And by “self-expression” I mean that Christ Jesus is God among us making Himself available to us. In theological language we state it as Christ Jesus is God the Son, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, made incarnate, made human flesh and blood for us.

As Christians we believe that God has make Himself available to us His children, not just to our minds, but that He has made Himself available to our whole persons, to our minds, our hearts, our souls, and our bodies.

As Catholics we believe God has made Himself available to us in His Christ who comes to us following His resurrection in special ways in the seven sacraments of our Church. As Catholics we believe that God is especially present to us and within us in Holy Communion. The sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel is especially dear and important to us.

But all of this would not have happened were it not for what Jesus went on to tell Peter and the other disciples in today’s Gospel passage. All of this would not have happened unless Jesus had told them what He was going to do and then did, namely to suffer terribly, to be rejected by the chief priests and elders, to be put to death, and after three days to rise again.

Is Jesus Christ simply an interesting historical figure? Is Jesus Christ just one religious leader among others? Just who is Jesus Christ for you? Just who do YOU think He is?

Peter and the other disciples gave their answers. What is your answer to His question?

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”