Challenging His Disciples
On Feb. 22nd’s Gospel (Yes, I know I’m way late), Jesus asked his disciples two questions — “Who do others say I am?” and “Who do you say I am?” He got two different responses. To the first question, people said he’s a prophet. To the second, Jesus is the Messiah (Matthew 16:13-16).
I can imagine that it was easy for people to see Jesus as a prophet. There were many prophets in the Old Testament. Much of scripture at that point were the writings of prophets. Therefore, a Jewish person had a model for how prophets acted and Jesus fit that mold. He preached about God and had supernatural abilities much like the prophets the Jews had learned about in scripture. When trying to define Jesus, “prophet” would have been a natural choice.
But Jesus was constantly reinventing how people saw their relationship with God. He was challenging people to break out of their preconceived notions of who God is and who the Messiah would be. And that was why he pressed his apostles and asked them who they truly believed he was. He wanted them to really think about all they had seen him say and do and speak from their hearts. Would they have the insight and courage to break away from the crowd and acknowledge Jesus as someone more than a prophet?
Challenging the Faithful
During the peak of Covid, the Masses in my parish were closed to the public but live-streamed. I was the lector and often the only person present in the church along with the priest. It’s an eery feeling being the sole member of the congregation. I couldn’t fall back on following along with others. And while I’ve been attending Mass regularly my entire life, it was still difficult to participate as an individual, not as a member of a group.
When we’re at Mass in a large congregation, it’s easy to just follow along with others. But take away the missals, the overhead projector, and the people. How present are you when you participate in the Mass? Are you going through a well-rehearsed script or proclaiming what you truly believe? Even if you attend Mass every week for your entire life, it’s still difficult to embrace the Mass and the Eucharist confidently as an individual. We too often seek the comfort of blending in with the crowd instead of confidently proclaiming what we believe.
The Apostles’ Conviction
I think about Saint Peter and him coming forward declaring Jesus as the Christ. I wonder if he had any hesitancy or doubt. Was he scared about saying something incorrect or foolish? He knew Jesus was the Messiah, but perhaps he had some hesitancy or timidity proclaiming it. He was going out on a limb not knowing how his statement would be received. After all, just moments later Jesus rebuked Peter (Matthew 16:23). So it’s possible that the apostles knew they had to weigh their words carefully because Jesus might take them to task on what they said.
The apostles seemed to ebb and flow in their convictions. Sometimes they would confidently proclaim their beliefs in Jesus and other times they were quite timid. I picture them huddled together in a room right before Pentecost, scared and confused. They lacked confidence in their beliefs and just sort of found safety being together as a group. I think this describes many of us at Mass — together as a group, but all trying to keep a low profile. But after Pentecost, the Holy Spirit gave the apostles the confidence to go out alone into the world to boldly teach others about Jesus. The weak “we” became the confident “I.”
Who is Jesus to You?
When you’re at Mass or deep in prayer, reflect on whether you are saying what our faith expects you to believe or what you truly believe. Are you just trying to hide amongst the congregation and going through the motions because you don’t firmly believe who Jesus is? Is Jesus and the Catholic Church more like a prophet to you; someone giving you well-meaning advice on the nature of God? Or do you truly believe in Christ Jesus, wholly present in the Eucharist at Mass? Who do you, not others, say Jesus is?