21 Jun Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Times
June 19, 2016
Father Stéphane Pouliot
Who is Jesus?
Who is he really? Whenever I visit a Catholic classroom, I often will verify the understanding of the children of any grade. In my experience, kids learn from an early age the expression God and Jesus. They talk about speaking to God and they talk about speaking to Jesus. I have listened to adults refer to God and Jesus in the same sentence, confusion permeating our religious language. It is as if we do not know how to speak about Jesus, because He is too mysteriously complicated to be defined easily.
Who is Jesus? Some will say that he is a man. Some will say he is God. Some will say he is God’s Son. Some will say he is a prophet. Some will say he was a great religious teacher. Some will say he is a revolutionary. Some will say he is an anarchist. Some will say he was a hippie before there was such a thing. Some will say he is a historical figure. Some will say he is a myth.
Everybody has an opinion about Jesus it seems. Who’s right? Who is Jesus? Jesus never intended for his identity to be a ping pong game, or an unsolved maze. That is why he went out of his way in surveying his disciples one day away from the crowds. This was a big question. He wanted an answer from those who were walking with him day in and day out, those who had been witnesses of his many miracles, those who were hanging to his every word. He wanted those who followed him, who learned from him, to tell him what the crowds said about who he was.
And it was wild: Jesus is John the Baptist risen from the dead; Jesus is Elijah back centuries later; Jesus is one of the ancient prophets.
Jesus as John the Baptist: well, isn’t that something? That would imply that after John the Baptist had been beheaded, he would have been temporarily hosted into Jesus’ body who just so happened to have lived already for 30 years by then, by taking over Jesus’ soul a bit like an alien invasion.
Jesus as Elijah: this time, Elijah who had been taken into heaven centuries before would now have reincarnated into Mary’s womb and come up looking quite different than the original, thank you very much.
Jesus as one of the ancient Prophets: same process as Elijah, and coated into a New Age mystery beyond human understanding.
Jesus, by then had heard enough. I can almost imagine him rolling his eyes. “But who do you say that I am?” he asked his disciples. I can see them right now looking at each other, unsure, puzzled, not wanting to be wrong, trying to tell whoever stands next to them: “You go first”. “No, you go first”. “I don’t know. Don’t you know?”
“Peter answered, saint Luke reports, ‘The Christ of God’ (Luke 9:20)”. As soon as he uttered those words, the rest of the disciples seem to have let out a “Phew…”, “Dodged that one”, “Good for you Peter”, “If you are wrong, at least it is not me”.
Jesus interestingly enough does not deny that, as saint Luke reports it, Peter hit the nail on the head, but instead of launching into “Now, let me give you the answer”, he “sternly ordered and commanded the disciples not to tell anyone” (Luke 9:21).
Well, Jesus, you want us to know what we think about you, but you do not want anyone to know it. I don’t get it.
But Jesus was not done with the interview. He continues: “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (Luke 9:22)”
You want to know who I am, Jesus seems to hint, then watch my next actions. They will speak louder than words. I want you to pay attention my disciples, he seems to tell them, because you should ask yourself the identity of the man who must, according to the old prophecies proclaimed in the synagogue every week, undergo great suffering, be rejected, be killed and be raised.
Who is that? Maybe not every disciple had memorized all the prophecies, but surely one of them remembered the old prophecy of Zechariah, which we heard in the first reading: “… when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only-begotten son, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10).
Many other prophecies would have come to the minds of one or the other of the disciples gathered that day privately with Jesus. They would have mulled it over and wondered: “Why does Jesus refer to himself in the third person, claiming the identity of the Son of Man”? They would have pondered Peter’s confession: “You are the Christ of God” (cf. Luke 9:20), which would mean in the original Hebrew:
“You are the Messiah sent by God to save us”. They would go back to the prophecy of Daniel probably memorized by many Jews of that time:
“And to ‘one like a son of man’ was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed (cf. Daniel 7:13-14) ”. Who does that sound like? Who could possibly be the man who would receive an everlasting dominion and a kingdom that shall not be destroyed, other than God?
Who is Jesus? Is he a man? Yes. Is he God? Yes. Is he the Son of God? Yes. Is Jesus a prophet? He is a prophet insofar as he is the voice of the Father in Heaven, and inspired by the Holy Spirit. Is he a great religious teacher? Jesus is not a great religious teacher, but THE definitive Teacher of what matters is this life and in the next.
Is he a revolutionary? Yes, insofar, as His coming among us overthrows the devil’s usurped kingship over the world, Jesus is launching a revolution of truth, love, peace and reconciliation whereby the hellish values are thrown out and the heavenly values are in.
Is Jesus an anarchist? That he definitely is not, since by definition an anarchist rejects any structure and authority, and Jesus sets up a mysterious structure in his twelve apostles, appoints Peter to be their leader, gives Peter and the other eleven apostles authority to bind and to loose sins, as well as gives Peter authority to be a rock for the other disciple makers. Those decisions are not the work of an anarchist, then and now.
Is Jesus a hippie? Definitely not in the 1960’s sense of the word, for His peace is not temporary, clouded in smoke and His love is not sexual, but sacrificial.
Is Jesus a historical figure? 100% historical, attested by his enemies and friends alike. The more we seek to deny his existence, the more we affirm it.
Is Jesus a myth? If we understand a myth to be a fairy tale, definitely not. If we believe that Jesus’ story is hidden in everyone of our great stories, then yes.
But after all of this, we must still answer Jesus’ question: “But who do you say that I am?” Your answer matters a great deal, because your answer will drive what you do next, once you have taken stock of the consequences of your answer.
Imagine Jesus in front of you right now, because He is here, at this very moment, asking you the most important question:
“But who do you say that I am?”
 “13 I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.14 And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain). (1994). The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic edition (Da 7:13–14). New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA.