Today we stand between two political conventions, and I am sure that both candidates would like to know what voters know and think about themselves.
Even Jesus was curious about what people thought about his message, what they thought of him, what kind of a following that he had.
I am sure that you would squirm if I asked each one of you today that same question. Jesus asks each one of us: “Who do you say that I am?”
Would we give some remembered catechism answer or would we respond with some inspired creative answer that would not say very much? Or would we take a pass saying that I have to think about it?
The question begs a personal answer, not something from some book or a thought passed on by a parent or a teacher.
I remember as a student in seminary with being impressed with classmates that could just begin talking. I would be thinking but I could not put it to words, perhaps that I don’t know what I know or what I believe.
I kept thinking to myself that I know a lot of information about Jesus but who do I say that Jesus is for me? I don’t know.
I passed all my tests and exams in the seminary. I felt this deep call to the priesthood from the time that I was a very little child. The Catholic Church had created such a history and an institution to which to belong, but it was missing the personal involvement with Jesus.
Of course, I believed that Jesus Christ was the Son of the Living God, but I began to think that Jesus was looking for a different answer that I could not answer.
I learned more about who Jesus is and my personal relationship with him when I was told that I was not orthodox enough and my ordination was delayed a year. That was my St. Paul’s conversion and falling off my horse of institutional faith– a personal set back that opened up a new way to be a person, to share true experiences of faith, to walk more humbly and to listen with more of a heart.
And what drew me more personally into a “flesh and blood relationship” with Jesus was the experience of the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola and the experience of contemplative prayer — taking the time to sit and to be with Jesus and his words — It started with a 30-day retreat.
I tried to find the answer to today’s question in books, in theology, but found it finally in the human experience with others, in a silent, listening kind of prayer and being more open to the inspirations and to mercy of God’s presence in my own life’s experience.
To be able to say to Jesus what Peter said: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” is one thing, but to understand and to believe that as an experienced revelation from God was another.
Over time, I began to realize Jesus was beginning to build a rock solid foundation, and that the Church was more than an institution with a long and “bigger-than-life” history. It was a “church,” a calling together of real people, who could help each other to open the kingdom of heaven to and for each other.
Too often, this passage of the gospel today has authenticated the papal power of Popes and the Magisterium of the Church. It doesn’t express the personal yearning to be chosen to God through Jesus. It doesn’t open up for each other the graces and blessings of a true Christian life as a follower and a disciple and friend of Jesus and friend of many more wanting the same.
When Jesus tells us today to tell no one about who he is, I think that he is inviting us to tell one another who we are together with him, who is the Christ and we who are the Christians.
“Oh, the depths of the riches and knowledge of God!” St. Paul would later exclaim. “How inscrutable are his judgements and how unsearchable his ways! To Him be glory forever, Amen,” St. Paul concluded.
In my early priesthood, I thought that I should study canon law and be more acceptable to be chosen as a bishop. But, it is clear from today’s story of Shebna, the master of the palace, that position and authority is not what God wants, neither in the Church, nor in government, nor in family life.
Speaking for God, Isaiah the prophet calls us to be an Eliakim who would inherit Shebna’s symbols but act “like a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” “I shall fit him like a peg in a sure spot, to be a place of honor, for his family.”
We can’t give what we don’t have. I can now share what God has given to me.
“Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!”