Some years ago, I saw an email alert on my phone and looking closely I discovered that it was an email from my late bishop (may God rest his soul). What actually struck me was the subject of the email which showed “Very Urgent”. I could not waste another second as I went ahead to open the mail. What I saw gave me more shock and confusion. From the email I read:
“My dear Fr. Boniface, how are you and your work? I believe you are doing well as usual. Please, my son, I had to travel to the USA on a very short notice. I am currently at Charles De Gaulle airport Paris, where I am connecting to another flight to New York City. However, as I write to you my hand luggage containing money and other personal effects has been stolen and I have nothing with me to continue this journey. Please do send me some money even if you have to borrow. Here is the name of a good Samaritan through whom you can send a Western Union or Moneygram transfer as soon as possible (Name and details). Please, my son, treat this as very urgent before I board my flight in the next three hours.
After reading this, I was short of breath as I picturized my bishop stranded and helpless in the land of Eiffel Tower. I thought of how much I could raise instantly and the nearest bank I could use to do the transfer. As my mind was doing all these processing, I instantly arrived at the thought to place a call to one priest who is working with the bishop; “perhaps he does not know what happened to the bishop” I said to myself.
When I called the priest, he could not respond after ringing him three consecutive times. I was about calling him the fourth time when he returned my call to tell me that he was having a brief meeting with the bishop… “Did you say the bishop?” I asked him. He said yes and quickly asked me if I also received an email from the “bishop”. I said yes and he said I should ignore it as the bishop’s email was hacked and his identity was stolen by a scammer to obtain money from people. That was even the topic of the meeting he was having with the bishop as some people already sent money before calling to verify if the bishop was okay.
The story above is a typical example of identity misplacement. Those who sent money to the “bishop” did so because they believed that it was the real bishop that was writing. Our world is driven by identity. It is for this reason that we have specific names, passwords, fingerprints, passcodes, pin codes, and so many other identity prerequisites. Often, we are faced with one question at the instant of our being introduced and that is: “who are you?” Yes, we live in a world that this predominantly on the runway of “who is who?” and Identity stereotyping.
In the Gospel Reading today (Luke 9:18-24) we are presented with an ultimate search for the true identity of our Lord Jesus Christ. The narrative began with our Lord Jesus Christ praying alone. This is not uncommon with him. He has the inexorable disposition for private prayers and there are many instances from the opening forty-day wilderness fasting and prayers (Matt. 4:1-2) to the concluding prayers at Gethsemane (Matt.26:26).
After praying, our Lord asked his disciples a question that served as an in-house assessment of his personality. He wanted first, to gauge the people’s opinion about him thus he asked them: “who do people say that I am?” In answering about the people’s opinion, they said John the Baptist, others mentioned Elijah and still others mentioned one of the old prophets. Afterward, our Lord asked them: “who do you say I am?” It was the ever spontaneous and quick-to-talk Peter, the head of the apostolic college who said: “The Christ of God”. We shall be looking at this encounter more insightfully.
Our Lord does not talk or act without a dependable reason. The question concerning his identity could have been a subject of debate among the people at the time. Our Lord asked the question in order to get at two levels of verification: the opinion of the people and the one from them (his disciples). The popular opinion was drawn from WHAT our Lord was doing not basically from WHO he is. There is a basic difference between “WHAT” and “WHO”. “What” has to do with functional quality while “Who” has to do with essential quality. “What” is temporary while “who” is permanent.
For the people, he is John the Baptist, may be from the radicality of his preaching. For the people again, he is Elijah, may be because of the miracles he performed. For some others, he could be any of the other prophets, may be judging from his prophetic utterances and actions. But all these are not equable to the identity of our Lord Jesus Christ.
When the same question was turned to the disciples: “you who do you say I am?” It was Peter who answered and said: “The Christ of God”. Christ (Christos) means anointed one and that points to the Messiah who is also the Saviour.
Now the question was “who do you say I AM?” The designation “I AM” actually rings a bell and would take us back to the book of Exodus (3:14) where God told Moses that His name is “I AM”. Also in the gospel of John (8:58), our Lord told the Jews who were arguing with him that: “before Abraham I AM”. Invariably, our Lord’s question could be put in this way: “who do you say, God, the son is?” Peter’s answer as we indicated above was apt going by the above rephrasing of the question.
The same question our Lord asked many years ago is still very relevant in our lives and times. It is very disturbing that many people still have narrow knowledge about God’s identity. That is why we often see people run to God only when there is an urgent need. Several times in my vocation as a priest some people have called me at both even and odd hours to ask me to start praying for one problem or the other. When the problem is solved God is forgotten. For some people, God is only relevant in times of trouble.
For some people, Jesus Christ is the provider of wealth and prosperity and that is all. For another set of people, he is a powerful warrior whose function it is to kill and destroy all their enemies may be with Holy Ghost fire. For still another set of people, Jesus Christ is just the healer of illnesses and sicknesses and when there is health and well being he is totally forgotten and abandoned.
In Peter’s answer, he did not say that our Lord Jesus Christ is just a multiplier of bread or a changer of water into wine; or even a raiser of the dead. He called him ‘The Christ of God’. That means he is the only anointed one, the only messiah and saviour of his people. This assertion places our Lord Jesus Christ on a broader platform wherein he becomes every good thing for every one of us.
The question of identity is applicable to all of us in a very special way. It is not so much about who people say we are but who we really are. If we claim that we are Christians then the Christian life should be rooted in our lives. We should not be answering Christians and go on to live lives that contradict that appellation. Dogs are known for their “dogly” behaviour. As Christians, are we supposed to be Christly or more appropriately Christ-like? The apostle Paul made this point much clearer in the Second Reading today (Gal.3:26-29) when we said that those of us who are baptised in Christ should put on Christ. That means we should have the identity of Christ in us.
As followers of Christ, we are also asked to reflect him in his passion. That was why he added in the narrative that whosoever wants to come after him (bear his identity) should take up his cross DAILY and follow him. Now the cross of Christ is not a destructive one. It is one that leads to a triumph over death and evil. It is a cross that tends towards resurrection and eternal life.
Now, let us face ourselves more purposefully and squarely. Who do you say Jesus Christ is in your life today? For me Jesus Christ our Lord is:
- The King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev. 19:16).
- The author and finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:2).
- The Good Shepherd that lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11).
- The Emmanuel (Matt. 1:23).
- The bread of life (John 6:35).
- The cup of salvation (psalm 116:13).
- The Word of Life (1 John 1:1).
- The stone which the builders rejected that became the cornerstone (Acts 4:11).
- The resurrection and the life (John 11:25).
- The Alpha and the Omega, First and Last, beginning and end
May you have an enduringly blissful Sunday and a great week ahead.