Who do you say I am?

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12 Sep 2018

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’…’But you,’ he said,’ who do you say I am?’ Then Simon Peter spoke up and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Simon son of Jonah, you are a blessed man! Because it was no human agency that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my community.’ Mt16:13-18

John, a very spiritual Catholic man in his 80s, who had shared with us that the Agony in the Garden is his favourite Scripture passage to meditate on, was telling us that he did not believe that Jesus is the Son of God. He believed that Jesus was an exceptional human being but he was not God. He did not believe that Jesus is the Son of God because he could not believe that the Father would send his son to die on the cross. Inwardly I protested. ‘No, I do not want to hear this. I do not want my faith in be challenged. I do not want doubts to be raised.’

I tried not to think about John’s words but they caused an earthquake in my faith in Jesus. I had thought that belief that Jesus is the Son of God was the solid rock of my faith. It was unnerving to find that my faith is not rock solid.

I read Understanding Jesus by Fr Andy Hamilton. Some helpful lines from Andy Hamilton, with my words in parentheses, are: ‘We should not take for granted that simply because we are church-going Christians, we believe in the Jesus of the New Testament. (I had taken that for granted). Faith in that Jesus was challenging then, and it is challenging today (It had not been challenging for me before)… Imagine that all we could say about Jesus was that he was a great man who died bravely and tragically … We believe that he died, that God raised him from the dead, that he is now with us, and that he will come again. We believe that he is present with us. That makes a great difference. When we hear the Gospel stories, we can easily move from wondering what he did to talking with him.’ I am struck by the impact of Jesus on Fr Patrick O’Sullivan, ‘He [Jesus] does not change the meaning of my life. No, without him my life would have no meaning.’ (Prayer and Relationships)

Then I realised that other people – John, Andy Hamilton, Patrick O’Sullivan – provide the answer to Jesus’ question, ‘who do people say I am?’ But Jesus is asking me, ‘who do you say I am?’ He wants my answer.

‘Jesus asks us the same question. He is not seeking a textbook response or for us to repeat what others have said about him. He wants to hear our personal response. ’ – St Paul’s Sunday Missal, twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A.

I pray and wait for the Father in heaven to reveal the truth to me. Even when I do not hear the Father’s distinct voice or have lightning flashes of conviction, I know in my depths that I want to be able to say to Jesus, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of God.’ I hang on to my mantra, ‘Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

I sit in silence with the words from the Gospels and put myself in the scenes. Even though I do not have vivid imagination, some scenes start coming alive. Jesus becomes alive. Sometimes, I am Thomas with his doubts in the Risen Christ. Sometimes with the father of the epileptic demoniac, I cry out, ‘I have faith. Help my lack of faith.’ I am the Samaritan woman who meets Jesus at the well. I am the Syro-Phoenician woman who manages to turn Jesus around. I am the woman with the haemorrhage, healed by Jesus. I am the 12-year-old girl raised from the dead. I am Lazarus called out of the tomb, unbound and set free. I am the man with the Gerasene demoniac healed by Jesus. I am the blind man pleading, ‘Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me,’ who is healed of his blindness. With Peter, I say to Jesus, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’

Two years down the track, I am grateful to John for his words that challenged, stretched and deepened my faith. My faith has to grow and mature. The faith that was passed on to me by my mother, religious teachers, priests’ homilies, and spiritual books has to become my own. It has to go from my head to my heart. More important than professing that Jesus is the Son of God is a personal encounter with Jesus. The best way is to sit with God’s word in silence and let Jesus speak to me, let Jesus become real to me.

For most of our lives, we hear people tell us who Jesus is to them. When we come to the point when we have our own answer to Jesus’ question, ‘Who do you say I am?’ that is the beginning of a personal relationship with Jesus who leads the Way to the Father.

Doubts may throw a spanner in the works of our faith, but they can also fan the flame of our faith into an even greater fire. ‘Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love.’

‘Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.’ Khalil Gibran, The Prophet

‘Faith begins exactly where atheism assumes it ends.’ Ron Rolheiser

Susie Hii is a writer and author of Happy, Healthy, Holy.
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