Who do you say that I am?
This is our College themes for 2019. It is the question of Jesus to the disciples in Luke’s account of the good news of Jesus the Christ. This year we are turning our attention to encountering Christ as a first step to ensuring that the Gospel and Catholic traditions are understood as guidance and support for life. This is a response to the Enhancing Catholic School Identity (ESCIP) data that speaks of growing secularization and relativisation in our students. How can we claim to be presenting Jesus and the Gospel as guidance and support for life without clarity about the person of Jesus? In the gospels the question is placed on the lips of Jesus. But it is a question that is addressed to each one of us. It is also the theme of Damascus Day Mass to which all are invited.
The question appears at the centre of the gospel and marks a turning point in the narrative. Jesus ministry now looks to fulfilment that is to come in Jerusalem. The full text:
Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Luke 9:18-20
As readers and interpreters of the biblical text we can consider the question in a number of ways. Because it is not an eye-witness account, but gospel written decades after the fact, the text is making a claim. What is Luke wanting us to understand about Jesus and the early church community?
The context is prayer. Jesus turns from prayer, communication with the one he calls Father, the one in whom his trust is complete, to address the disciples with a question about his identity. In his relationship with the Father, Jesus’ identity is solid – he is son. In Chapter 12 Jesus’ teaches the disciples to pray the “Our Father”. Luke’s readers would already know that. Nevertheless Luke portrays a Jesus who is interested in perceptions of his identity. Aren’t we all?
Who do you say that I am?, Jesus asks, and we are curious. It is a very human curiosity. What do people say about me when I am not looking or listening? At some stage, we all wonder about that. What image do I project to others? What self-talk do I have about myself in my inner world? How much is it based other people’s comments about me? What is the face that I share with others? Is it my true face? We are all interested in our identity and in the distinctiveness of others. It is what sells glossy magazines and daily newspapers and is at the heart of social media. How many “likes” do I have on this post? But whose opinion about my character do I value most? Whose view of me do I put most store in? It is at the heart of coming to terms with our lives and our purpose in life. It seems that Luke’s Jesus is also seeking feedback? But is he? Is that the point?
Returning to Jesus’ question. It can be put in many ways and even brought into the present day.
• Who do I say that Jesus is in the gospel?
• Who do we say that Jesus is in the gospel?
• Who do I say that Jesus is today?
• Who do I say that Jesus is for me?
• Who do we say that Jesus is for us?
Students have been considering these questions in Religious Education classes. They have brainstormed titles, qualities and characteristics of Jesus and bringing those thoughts to the present day. Where would Jesus be at work in today’s world? Then they have created an image of their ideas to be displayed as part of a whole school mosaic in the JSC for Damascus Day Mass.
The student’s answers matter because they come to the heart of Christian faith. It is about witnessing to their truth. In Luke’s gospel the truth is stated in the messianic language of the Hebrew and early Christian people. Peter’s answer is good news for the Judeo-Christian community who are called to acknowledge and declare it personally.
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.”
What is your response?