In today’s Gospel we have one of the most important questions that Jesus asks of his disciples – not just those who were with him while he lived but of all his disciples – us included. He asks them – Who do you say that I am and Peter is there with the answer – you are the Messiah, the Lord. There have always been indications of who Jesus and indeed God are: if you go back into the Old Testament to the book of Exodus you read that when Moses asked God who he should say had sent him when he went to the Israelites – God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am, or perhaps you have heard it referred to as Yahweh which is how the Jewish faith acknowledge it, has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:13-14)
And Jesus also used multiple “I Am” statements:
I Am the Light of the World (John 8:12),
I Am the Door of the Sheepfold (John 10:7)
I Am the Good Shepherd (John 10:11)
I Am the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25)
I Am the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6)
I Am the True Vine (John 15:1)
And let’s not forget: “before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58). Through these, He alludes to his identity as divine and those statements also continue into Revelation, for example, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty’” (Revelation 1:8). God and Jesus are constantly helping us to understand the identity of God. All these statements are intended to help us know and accept that our Lord is always there for us – a light in our darkness, a shepherd to lead us through difficult times, the bread of life to sustain us. But no matter how many times we hear these words it is only when we ourselves encounter Jesus and accept his love and forgiveness that we can truly know who he is for us.
When I was reflecting on this passage I read a text which was written by Pope Francis on just these words and I just want to quote a short piece of that: Pope Francis reflected on the Gospel from St Mark (8:27-33), in which the evangelist recounts Peter’s Confession of faith. He began by noting that Peter “was certainly the most courageous one that day, when Jesus asked his disciples: but who do you say that I am?”. For he responded decisively: “You are the Christ”. The Pope added that Peter was likely quite “satisfied within himself” thinking “I answered well!. And truly “he had answered well”, the Pope said.
However, his dialogue with Jesus did not end so well, the Pope added. “The Lord began to explain what would happen”, but “Peter did not agree” with what he was hearing. “He did not like the path” that Jesus set forth. Peter thought he could argue with his Lord but Jesus rebukes him saying ‘Get behind me Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men’”. Peter had yet to learn that in order to know our Lord we have to accept the suffering, we need to travel the path that he travelled and we need to know his love and forgiveness. We need to live the life of a disciple, knowing our Lord in our weaknesses, our victories, in our sadness and joy. We need to allow the Spirit to work through us, teaching, guiding and caring for us and helping us to teach, guide and care for others.
Who do you say I am will be different for all of us according to our situations – for me in my work, he is the God of love, compassion, comfort and most importantly HOPE. A constant support to me as I journey alongside the dying and care for their families and for those who are looking after them. He is the rock, the foundation of my life.
When Julia asked me to reflect on this today I took the opportunity to speak to a couple of folk in the hospice, a lady of great faith who is on the final part of her journey and the wife of another patient who is also nearing death.
The Lady spoke of her Lord as the one who provides unfailing protection and strength, compassion in grief and comfort and warmth. She finished by saying that what her Lord gives is ultimately hope through his words in John 14, I am going to prepare a place for you and I will come for you.
The wife spoke of her rock and comforter, someone who gives her the strength to cope and a sense of peace when she is struggling. He is always there for me and I can sense his love, care and compassion through so many who are looking after me.
So back to the question: Who do you say that I am?