One of the advantages of a name like 'John' is that is so common. There were 4 Johns in my class at primary school and sometimes the teacher would ask a question I wouldn’t know the answers to. I am sure looking back one teacher got great pleasure in asking ‘now who will I ask? John…’ the four Johns would gulp and be on hold, and a sigh of relief would come from this John who didn’t know the answer when another John surname was called out because he hadn’t his learning off homework done!
A teacher asks questions of course out find out how much the pupils understand what they have learned (if they have taken the trouble to learn!). That is in fact what to educate means ‘to draw out from’.
Jesus was, among other things, a teacher to his followers. He was often addressed as ‘Rabbi’ which means ‘teacher’. Someone once counted how many questions Jesus asks in the 4 Gospel accounts and there are about 200 questions he asks, often rhetorically, but all ultimately directed at all Christians for all times and at us today, addressed to us, and He wants an answer from each person.
Jesus asks two questions today
Who do people say that I am?
And of course opinions are divided and none of the answers turn out to be correct. People’s opinions are not necessarily right. Popular opinion is very elusive. So much for what people think of us.
But Jesus is not really that concerned what people think of him (unlike us!). This was simply a lead in question to the real question: ‘who do you say that I am?’ That is a very different prospect altogether! Jesus is getting personal.
This is a crucial question. After all we know that He will meet with us one day and ask us the very same question! It is Only Peter who comes up with right answer – ‘The Christ of God’. Likewise in class there was always someone who knew the right answer to every question!
We come to realise then in the account of what follows that then Jesus teaches us who he says He is Himself! And that we cannot have Him without the cross. And all of us have one, which can be external or internal, even unknown to a spouse or family member.
The inescapable reality of the cross in all its forms – spiritual, physical, emotional, mental, in relationships, the cross can take the form of everyday criticism, anger, trials, contradictions and humiliations. To be a disciple is to be a follower of the Lord Jesus not in a piecemeal fashion, picking and choosing, but with hardships and ordeals and all sorts of unexpected challenges and trials. There is no-one who escapes suffering. To be a follower means to be open - and to be willing to be opened to the very likely possibility of suffering.
It only begins to make sense when love is brought into the equation. Even on the happiest day imaginable in a person’s life, in two people’s lives in fact – on their wedding day, a couple exchange vows. The good and the bad are accepted in equal measure, in a balanced equation as it were. - For better or worse for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part. Often a couple are quite moved by this exchange. What a married couple effectively say is: we will face the future together and we will suffer together. It is love, as well as prayer, duty, mutual trust and tenacity that help them to persevere and not to give up on each other.
People sometimes wistfully say to themselves or aloud – ‘if I knew then what I know now!’ Each choice in life, single, married, religious or priestly, brings its own cup of suffering in unexpected ways. The grass is always greener elsewhere. No matter what life we choose, we bring our personality, our temperament, our upbringing with us. We will make our share of mistakes; we will have our coping mechanisms, bad habits and good. We will have good days and bad days, sunshine and rain. In marriage two personalities must work for a lifetime, religious must lives their vows in a community setting, a priest and even single people must find it in the sacrifices to their comfort, convenience and control.
With the passage of time we begin to see all the implications of that first yes, but it was a free yes, made in love and hopefully now even more mature and developed, made stronger and with more resolve. The permanent and lasting cost becomes clearer to us, especially at milestone events, ages or anniversaries, with the renewed and deeper sense or realisation of what we have accepted as well as given up, renounced or surrendered. Sometimes growth involves the more complete 'yes' that entails a fuller surrender of self, a stripping off of vanity and pride, of self-centredness and control. But the 'terms and conditions' that bind us at one level are meant to free us at another.
Now today, Jesus asks: ‘Who do you say that I am NOW? After all these years? Or will you too go away?’ At every stage of life we must face the daily cross, not back-sliding, but denying ourselves, making sacrifices, doing our duty. Obedience, the calling and sacrifices that our state and age in life brings. Take up your cross, whatever that may be!
Andrew said to Bartholomew – ‘we have found the Christ.’ We too must find Him, but He must find us - in prayer. Jesus says firmly and finally that we must ‘lose our lives’ in order to find them. Therefore we must regularly die to self and surrender the three C words of our Convenience, Comfort and Control. With the help of prayer we realise that:
‘When you have found the Cross, it is I you have found’ (Our Lord to Bl Josefa Menendez).