Recently within the liturgical life of the Church, we heard proclaimed the Confession of St. Peter as found in St. Matthew’s Gospel. I really like Saint Peter because of something that both he and I have in common, which I like to refer as “foot in mouth disease”: open mouth and insert foot now. Make no wonder that one professor in seminary had on their door a sign which read: “A closed mouth gathers no feet.” Neither Saint Peter nor myself have really learned that lesson. Throughout the gospels, we find encounters where Peter has his moments of foot in mouth disease. There are times in which he is totally out to lunch and there are times in which he is totally right. What we have before us today is a case where Peter actually gets it right.
In looking at things from the perspective of the context and the chronology of Saint Matthew’s Gospel, we come to a junction where the direction of Jesus and his disciples’ changes. Mind you there are a lot of those junctions but this is the junction where the direction of the ministry plan really changes from one track to another. We have been with them on the Sermon on the Mount. We have been with the disciples when they have been called to follow Jesus and we have been with them when they saw all the miracles that were done; even to include Jesus’ walking on the water and the feeding of thousands. Based on all of these things, Jesus, being the good teacher that He; offers a pop quiz. Now with our modern day thinking we may be thinking that Jesus is offering such a question to rate his popularity before he makes his next move but that is not the case. In being the true teacher that Jesus is, he asks the question because he wants to know what it is that his disciples have learned about God, about their faith and about what it is that they have been called to be part of. For Jesus to ask the question of what do others say and think, that is to get a feel for what it is that he needs to do in order to fulfill the mandate given to him by the Father.
There are those who indeed think about who and what Jesus is. Even in our own time, we have those who say that he is a nice teacher and that what he says does indeed hold a lot of truth. Yet, some of these people think that Jesus is just a nice guy who lived 2000 years ago. But, what do we actually think about Jesus? Who is Jesus for us? Who is Jesus for you? Who is Jesus for me?
For the institutional Church, Jesus is the one who constantly pushes the boundaries of what the Church is called to do and called to be. In this instance, Jesus is the one who is calling a group of people to be different, to be seen as people who follow him because of their actions: their love of one another. It is the name in which we pray and it is the name in which we gather, and it is in him that that we live, move, and have our being; we are in him, we are NOT him.
Who is Jesus for Me? Well, that is a very interesting question: Who is Jesus for Me? To put it in the terms of social media and to declare the relationship status of Jesus and myself, the best way that I can put it is this: “It’s complicated.” Now, you may think to yourself, surely as a parish priest I should have all my ducks in a row, everything neat and tidy, and faith and a relationship with Jesus is a wonderful thing. Well, faith and a relationship with Jesus is indeed a wonderful thing and it is one of the best, if not the best thing, that I have in my life. But, it is far from neat and tidy. It is mucky, muddy—good moments and bad moments—moments in which we want to stay and moments in which I just want to run away. For me, Jesus is indeed real, and like Peter I will indeed open my mouth, and insert my foot if I have to, to talk about Jesus. Hence, when teaching confirmation class, I often wear a t-shirt which says: “Warning: I may start taking about Jesus at any time.
In his Book, Heaven is for Real, Todd Burpo, recalls the conversations with his 6-year-old son, Colton, about his experiences of heaven and his description of Jesus. Burpo finds out that there is a girl in Europe who had a similar experience and she painted a portrait of Jesus. The portrait is in the book. When I read the book and I came to the portrait and even now, when I look at it, I get goose bumps and not only do I see Jesus but: I see the face of every child I have baptized, every couple I have married and every person I have buried. So, for me, Jesus is as real as you can get.
So, who is Jesus for you? Is he someone who has become a lovely excuse to say his name in 45 languages when you hit your baby toe off the leg of the bed? Or is he the one, you turn to in the moments when life seems hard and there is no one there? Who is Jesus for you? In our own way, we all need to come to our own understanding of who and what Jesus is for us as individuals. We all need to come to the understanding of what it is that Jesus can give to us but not only give to us, but what we can give to him and what and how we are called to share it with those who are in a desperate need of having Jesus in their lives. Before we can do anything in sharing who Jesus is, before we can say anything about him, we need to come to our own understanding, no matter who weak or strong it is, of who and what Jesus is for us. We have the key to open the door, it is we who need to turn it to see what is actually on the other side.